Cup brings nations’ fans together, but at what cost?
BERLIN — Told they couldn’t watch the World Cup on the job, Italian auto workers went on strike — conveniently, a half hour before game time. German companies set up office viewing areas to keep employees from defecting on game days.
Brazil basically shut down when its team played, with businesses and schools closed and elective surgery put off so people could be in front of a TV
he soccer tournament is the world’s most watched sporting event, and the fact that it comes around only once every four years is probably fortunate for anyone trying to get some work done.
One study suggests the German economy, Europe’s largest, loses more than $8 billion in productivity, about 0.27 percent of gross domestic product, during the monthlong tournament. Surveys in Britain predict output losses there of $1.5 billion to $2.3 billion.
And that’s just two of the 214 countries and territories where the 2006 World Cup drew the cumulative viewership of 26 billion people. That’s a lot of eyes not on the job.
Some workplaces — particularly government ones — are strictly watching that employees aren’t rooting when they should be working. Italy’s Renato Brunetta, minister for public administration, even warned government workers ahead of the tournament: “Fun is one thing, work is another.”
Many other bosses seem
. T Brazilian soccer fans at the central market in Sao Paulo watch on television as Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands celebrates his goal against Brazil during a World Cup quarterfinal on July 2. only too happy to allow the World Cup into the workplace — perhaps because they share their subordinates’ football obsession. In the Netherlands, whose team knocked Brazil out in the quarterfinals, the entire country’s quitting time was unofficially moved forward to 1 p.m. on Friday so fans could watch the game.
German insurer Allianz SE sets up viewing areas in its Munich offices for German matches and allows all to watch — as long as they punched out beforehand.
“It is really motivating to employees,” Allianz spokeswoman Vera Werner said. “Managers see it as a way to boost their co-workers’ team spirit.”
While the United States isn’t hooked on soccer, support is growing. The World Cup is the fourth-biggest “top productivity sapper” in the U.S., based on a ranking of top sporting events carried out by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a workplace consultancy based in Chicago. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament ranked No. 1 and was followed by NFL fantasy football pools and the Super Bowl.
The World Cup is not exclusively an economic drain. Economists say it boosts consumer spending for things like fan paraphernalia, party supplies and bigger ticket items like wide-screen televisions.
Britain’s Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated that despite productivity losses, there will be a net $2.43 billion short-run boost to that country’s GDP in June and July thanks to increased consumer expenditure and business spending on advertising.
For Uruguay’s quarterfinal victory over Ghana, government offices shut down at 3 p.m. or simply stopped responding to the public, as did the banking system and most businesses. For its semifinal match against the Netherlands today, management and unions in virtually every company have agreed to allow everyone to watch. Dutch officials said most “non-essential’’ workers in their country are cleared to watch.
Spain’s David Villa celebrates on Saturday after scoring the only goal during a World Cup quarterfinal against Paraguay.