Office workers have been blocked from accessing fantasy sports websites as businesses have begun to count the cost of the increasingly popular pastime.
Soaring popularity in recent years, for sites such as AFL Dream Team and AFL SuperCoach, have seen fantasy sports join the likes of Facebook on the corporate bench as poor form.
Website-production company founder Devon Aubert had to make the unpopular decision to ban his employees from accessing such sites.
Mr Aubert, who had employees in Australia and Canada, believed what started out as a great platform for office bonding, soon turned into a liability after it chewed into too much company time.
“It’s not something I wanted to do, but at the end of the day I knew I had to,” Mr Aubert said.
“It just comes down to good business.”
Fantasy sports websites simulate the role of a professional coach, providing sports fans the chance to construct online teams in their favourite code, and form leagues to compete against friends and colleagues.
Players in each team accumulate points based on their actual performances in the real world.
Vapor Media is the vendor behind the nation’s biggest competitions including AFL Dream Team and Fox Sports’ AFL SuperCoach, and managing director Peter Jankulovski estimated 1.2 million Australians participated across 14 sports, with numbers on the rise.
“We’re seeing growth of around 10 per cent, per annum at the moment,” Mr Jankulovski said.
“About 60 per cent of (1.2 million) would be AFL, about 20 to 25 per cent would be NRL and the rest would be all of the other sports.
“The first figures for 2002 were just under 40,000,” he said.
Globally, fantasy sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry with spin-off businesses cashing in on the hysteria through support websites, mobile phone applications and specialist television programs.
The AFL SuperCoach phone application is currently the 29th most downloaded app in Australia and while the average supporter is having fun, businesses have felt the pinch.
A US Study by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated fantasy sports cost American companies up to $1.5 billion in productivity each year, with half the people surveyed admitting they spend at least one hour each day thinking about their team.
Fox Sports senior journalist Christopher Sutton believed the explosion in fantasy sport participation was inevitable.
“Sports tipping has been around for a long time and we’ve probably got to the stage where fans were crying out for a new way to get involved with their favourite sports,” Mr Sutton said.
“Fantasy turns that fan experience from being purely that of a spectator into that of a player, coach and manager.
“With the integration of private custom leagues, it also provides a field on which players can compete with and against their friends and reinvigorates the concept of bragging rights,” he said.
While many non sports-related workplaces have kicked fantasy sports out of the workplace, Mr Sutton said that wasn’t the case at Sydney’s Fox headquarters.
“Not only is it strongly encouraged that we participate in all fantasy games across all codes, but the Monday and Friday office banter around Fox Sports is always dominated by fantasy talk.”
He said, “It’s very vibrant, healthily competitive and very much encouraged.”
Andy Ruzgar, a 21 year old Hallett Cove resident, admitted he’d spent ‘a couple of hours’ setting up his fantasy team and invested around 20 minutes a week managing it.
While he enjoyed competing against his mates, he believed the pastime is best left as exactly that, and not used in the office.
“If you work at a place that’s big on footy then you’d probably be encouraged, but if not and you’re doing your Dream Team instead of work, then it’s a distraction,” Mr Ruzgar said.
This stance has been adopted by more businesses each football season and Mr Aubert said his Website-production company was one of many others that he was aware of.
“I love my sport, and I love the concept but it was taking over and it had to go,” Mr Aubert said.
“I know of many others doing the same thing and while my employees might not agree right now, I know it’s what’s best for everybody.”