March Money Madness: 5 Big Numbers Behind Our College Basketball Obsession


Considering all the money they lose on unproductive employees, employers might not be so crazy about March Madness.

If somebody asked you what the biggest holiday in March was, what would be your answer? Would it be Easter? How about St. Patrick’s Day?

Our answer would be simple: It’s March Madness, son! Because while it might not technically be a holiday, this epic college basketball playoff is the biggest event of the month. It’s not even that close.

Is there anything quite as exciting as watching a 10-seed Cinderella storm their way into the Elite Eight? Is there anything quite as heartbreaking as watching your team’s dream season collapse under the weight of a miracle, madcap buzzer beater? We checked, and the answer to both these questions is: no.

America is, for sure, totally obsessed with March Madness. But exactly how obsessed are we? Are we “glued to the TV during a daylight car chase” obsessed? Or are we “writing 10,000-word fan theories on the West World subreddit” obsessed?

Well, we dug into numbers, and here’s what we found.

$2.1 billion

Admit it. You’ve taken time at work to fill out your NCAA bracket. And, let’s be clear here, we 100 percent support you doing that. But it’s also a fact that time you spend at work doing stuff other than, well, work, means your employer is losing money.

And during March Madness, the amount of time that employees spend at the office working on their brackets really adds up. According to some estimates, employers nationwide lose $2.1 billion dollars in missed productivity due to the NCAA tournament.

Then again, if it helps improve worker morale, that might just be money well spent.

$10.4 billion

People like filling out March Madness brackets because they’re fun, not because they stand to win lots and lots of money. Then again, the prospect of winning lots and lots of money does make the whole bracket thing more fun. So it’s a bit of a wash.

Either way, when you add up all the brackets in the country and all the money that people wager on them, it comes out to … well, lots and lots and lots and loooooots of money. According to a 2017 estimate from ESPN, a total of $10.4 billion was wagered on a whopping 70 million brackets. That works out to $29 per bracket.

But here’s the crazy part: Only three percent of that was bet legally. Unlicensed office pools for the win!

$1.98 billion

That’s how much extra money was spent on beer in March 2017. Now, we’re willing to admit that St Patrick’s Day maybe kinda sorta had something to do with that. But St Patrick’s Day is only a one-day celebration. March Madness, on the other hand, goes on for weeks.

It turns out that people like drinking beer with their friends while watching basketball. We know, we’re shocked too.


According to one estimate, this is how much the average tourist will spend on food, lodging, transportation, and tickets for a trip to the Final Four. And folks who want really good seats to the Final Four will spend a lot more than that.

This year, the Final Four will be held in San Antonio, home of the Alamo, the River Walk, and Greg Popovich’s grumpy mid-game interviews.  The expected impact on San Antonio’s economy will be $180 million.

$1.24 billion

In the era of cord-cutting and ala carte streaming services, live sports is one of the few things that advertisers and networks know people want to watch live. And that makes them catnip for advertisers. It’s the rare opportunity to make a commercial that millions of people will see at the same time. Who could possibly conceive of such a thing!

(The answer to that question is: anyone over the age of 25.)

But we digress. Last year, advertisers spent a whopping $1.24 billion on national TV advertisements during March Madness. Figures like that explain why the NCAA cleared $1 billion in revenue for the first time last season. And thanks to the eight-year contract extension they signed with Turner Broadcasting in 2016, we guarantee that it won’t be the last time either.

Have fun filling out your bracket everyone! And our apologies when it inevitably gets busted due to (checks the schedule) South Dakota State or something.

Want to read more about the financial side of sports and entertainment? Check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:

How much are you betting on your March Madness bracket? We want to hear from you! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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