By William Hill
Last Updated: 4th February 2020
This could be the year. Though they’re not one of the favourites, Gareth Southgate’s young squad of fresh, exciting talent might be the one to end decades of disappointment and bring glory back to English shores. World Cup fever has gripped workplaces in the UK and around the globe. But what businesses probably don’t realise is how much World Cup success could cost them.
Live streaming and social media have made it easier than ever to follow each game minute-by-minute, even while you’re at work. But if you do decide you’re more loyal to the beautiful game than you are to your beautiful job, there’s no way you’ll be as productive. And, if like-minded football fans tune out of their work and into the football, each nation as a whole will lose millions, potentially billions, in productivity.
To see just how much businesses stand to lose, we’ve put together a stage-by-stage breakdown of just how much productivity the UK and other nations could lose from distracted workers.
How we did it
Not everyone will be at work during every game, and not everyone who is at work will be watching. So we’ve used data on each country’s GDP and labour force to calculate how much lost productivity there will be at each stage depending on what percentage of the workforce is slacking off or distracted. The results? The more you play, the more you pay. That’s disconcerting on the one hand, but it could make it a little easier for unlucky nations to come to terms with elimination.
Despite being drawn in the same group as a star-studded Belgium side, England will be expected to progress to the knockout stage at the expense of unfancied Tunisia and World Cup newbies Panama. That said, England crashed out at the group stage four years ago without winning a single game.
A repeat of 2014 would break the hearts of English fans, but could it actually be a blessing in disguise for businesses? If just 20% of workers in the UK slack off during the group fixtures, productivity loss could reach £551.3 million. If 30% of workers are distracted, that figure rises to £826.9 million. Compare that to the £100 million of productivity loss from employees viewing sporting events in the summer of 2015 — a non-World Cup year — and you can see just how much more of a hit the World Cup will take on the economy than Wimbledon, the Ashes, and the Open combined.
If you think we’ve got it bad, spare a thought for Japan. Drawn in a tough group with Colombia, Poland and Senegal, if the Samurai Blue were to get on the plane home after just three games it would still be a cost of £1.15 billion in lost productivity. That’s more than Spain, Argentina, Portugal and Belgium stand to lose if they make the final!
Round of 16
You might hope England will be hitting the back of the net throughout the group stage, but if they do, it’ll be hitting our net income. Should England qualify from Group G, based on current odds, they will either face 2014 quarter-finalists Colombia, or Japan.
But reaching this stage of the competition would be much more costly to England than either of their potential opponents. Having already lost three games worth of productivity, playing a fourth game could see the UK lose out on £735 million overall, based on 20% of workers slacking to view the game. This is more than three times as much as the Poles stand to lose, and four times as much as the Colombians. That’s 205,307,263 pints of lager at the current average price.
Reaching the knockout phase would be most costly for Germany. A fourth game of 20% viewership would take their losses in productivity over the one billion mark. But with a squad so talented that saw the likes of Leroy Sane, Emre Can and Mario Gotze left at home, the Germans should buckle up for an expensive summer that takes them well beyond the last 16.
The dreaded quarter finals. The arch nemesis of the Three Lions. Six times England have crashed out at this stage, most recently in Euro 2012 at the hands of Italy and another failed penalty shootout. And, if we are to be eliminated at this stage once again, it could total £918.8 million in lost productivity if all five games have a 20% UK viewership. Should viewership reach 30%, the total could hit £1.38 billion. That’s almost double what it cost to build West Ham’s London Stadium grounds.
It wouldn’t be a surprise for England to be sent packing at this stage – the way the groups have fallen means they could face either of the two favourites, Germany and Brazil, in the quarter finals. But England could also be up against one of the underdogs, namely Costa Rica or South Korea, and as we’ve seen previously the World Cup loves an underdog. Last time around, minnows Costa Rica, who had already eliminated England, Italy and Greece, came within a penalty shootout of defeating eventual semifinalists the Netherlands, while South Korea famously qualified for the semifinals in 2002.
The lost productivity figure for all eight teams with the best odds to be quarter-finalists combined is £9,122,216,602. That’s around the same amount that employee lateness costs to the UK economy in an entire year.
Update: England have made it to the semi-finals! They face Croatia on 11th July with the odds of England winning 13/10.
Current odds suggest France and Spain will make it to the semifinals, but that could be the end of their journey as they come up against the tournament favourites. The French might find relief in this, though, when they consider their country’s total productivity loss after these six games would amount to £1.2 billion if 30% of the country’s workforce slacked off to watch the game. That’s the amount England stands to lose if they make it all the way to the final. Spain on the other hand will have a relative bargain of a match, losing out on a comparatively small £693 million throughout the tournament.
Many foresee England going home at the quarter finals, and this is reflected in the odds. Only twice have they managed to go further in the competition. But if they do make it to the semis they will have racked up just under £1 billion of productivity loss if 20% of the workforce have been watching each game. This figure dwarfs the £260 million estimated productivity loss due to office Christmas party hangovers — an infamous cause of suspicious sick days and unproductive mornings.
At the start of the competition, the odds suggest that the most likely finalists are Germany and Brazil. This would be a thrilling pairing for fans, and a chance for the Seleção to right wrongs from their infamous 7-1 semifinal defeat to the Germans four years ago. But despite the promise of a grudge match, Brazilian businesses might be wishing their team had fallen at the penultimate hurdle once again. If 30% of the Brazilian workforce tunes into the match instead of working, the estimated lost productivity will be £1.7 billion.
If you’re still dreaming for a run to the final for the Three Lions, here’s how it could happen: the young England squad exceed expectations at every turn, proving that a breath of fresh air was just what the nation needed. They blast through the group stage, round of 16, quarter and semifinals, avoiding penalty shootouts en route to the final in Moscow. England to win World Cup 7/2.
England defying the odds and reaching the World Cup final would be a seismic event. Even non-fans would likely tune in. Productivity-wise, it doesn’t even matter who wins or loses. Simply competing in the World Cup final will cost a tournament total of £1.2 billion in lost productivity, even if only 20% of the workforce is distracted (or “working from home”) throughout the competition.
But if England have such a scorching tournament, it’s not impossible that the average match viewership would rise to 50% throughout — especially during what we’ll likely call the Match of the Century. That would mean a whopping £3.2 billion productivity loss overall. To put that into context, you could build four London Stadiums for this price.
Even if, say, Germany were to win the final, the financial victory would be England’s. A consistent 50% German viewership would mean over £4.7 billion in lost productivity—over one billion more than in England. That wouldn’t exactly console the devastated droves at the pub, but it could be the silver lining England needs to keep it going for the next four years.