Economics

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The Math of March Madness

9 Mar, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

"Basketball is the second most exciting indoor sport, and the other one shouldn't have spectators." - Dick Vertleib, sports executive.

Even for those who don’t typically follow college basketball, March Madness is entertaining. It’s a festival of great games, funny commercials and the chance to see some of the most entertaining antics in the entire history of ever put on by those sitting on the bench.

Selection Sunday is March 13, and the big dance opens on March 15. A full schedule can be found here.  (This year’s Final Four and the Championship Game will be held in Houston, Texas, at the NRG Stadium from April 1-4.)

But let’s face it: March Madness is all about the journey the sports bar-filling, face-painting, bracket-busting, screaming-until-your-left-lung-flies-out-of-your-mouth-and-lands-on-the-bar – trip from mid-March through early April. It fills up the last of winter with entertainment and excitement. And because of that, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to resist the temptation of making out a bracket, even when the picks are based on less-than-scientific research (badgers are cute, I hate devils, I knew someone who went to that school once.) And when it’s possible to make a bracket online and check it through the official tourney app, it’s no wonder 10 percent of the population fills out a bracket. (The only confounding part might be why more people don’t do it.)

For those who live by the numbers for economic impact and more, it’s a chance to practice NCAA math. Consider these statistics:

60 million-plus: The number of Americans who will complete an NCAA tournament bracket this year (according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine)

9.2 quintillon to one: The odds against filling out a perfect March Madness bracket. Statistically, the average person is more likely to die an excruciating death by vending machine, become president, win the Mega Millions jackpot or die from incorrectly using products made for right-handed people (if you're a lefty) than to fill out a perfect NCAA basketball bracket.

$1 billion: The amount of money estimated to be spent in off-book gambling about the tournament.

$1.9 billion: That’s the number for the bracket racket – how much employers will lose in productivity during the NCAA tournament as employees stealthily check their brackets each day, send taunting e-mails to others in the betting pool and so forth.

And those are just the quirky numbers. Among the more serious figures are these, as produced in 2015 by WalletHub:

$2,245: Average price of a ticket to both the Final Four games and the championship

$344: Price of the average single-game ticket.

$2,100: Amount each person visiting Houston for the 2016 Final Four is expected to spend on lodging, food and public transportation

739,189: The estimated number of attendees who went to the tournament in 2014

70,000/$71 million: As of 2015 Final Four, the number of tourists, and the amount of money they were spending in Indianapolis, according to Visit Indy.

11.3 million: The number of viewers of the NCAA tournament (up 8 percent from the previous year), a figure provided by NCAA

Clearly, the hosting cities reap the benefits, whether they’re seeing early rounds or finals. March Madness itself is an industry, with TV broadcast revenue ($1.13 billion) and commercial spend ($1.5 million for a 30-second spot.) It’s also a hospitality boon. WalletHub says 17 to 18 million barrels of American beer are produced for March (as compared to 14 million for the average month.) And for those who need to comfort themselves after a bitter loss, the company notes there is a 19 percent increase in pizza orders after losses vs. wins – and a 9 percent increase in dessert orders.

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