The men‚Äôs NCAA basketball tournament, which began in 1939, has evolved into one of the biggest annual sporting events in America. Not coincidentally it‚Äôs also the source of gambling-fever with office pools rampant all across the country.
The FBI estimates that during the three-week tournament, $2.5 billion will be wagered. It‚Äôs also estimated that 58 million workers will spend part of each work day monitoring the results, costing $3.8 billion in lost productivity. (But of course great for TV and Internet ratings.)
This year, one of the world‚Äôs richest people, Warren Buffet, has created a $1 billion bracket. FYI, Bloomberg News says Buffet is the world‚Äôs second richest, passing Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim. (He has to be the richest guy named Slim.)
Yes, perhaps only in America, and totally free, could an online bracket make someone a billionaire, or almost. ($25 million a year for 40 years or a lump sum of $500 million.) As I find myself saying so often, “What a country.”
Buffet, 83, said he came up with the idea while talking sports with Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert in November. Gilbert also owns the NBA‚Äôs Cleveland Cavaliers. When LeBron James left for Miami, Gilbert childishly predicted that the Cavs would win a world title before James did. (LeBron has won two rings since and this year the Cavs have won a grand total of 26 games. Oops.)
With Buffet on the hook for $1 billion, Quicken sponsored the national campaign. For Buffet it‚Äôs really no different from many of his other insurance transactions. “We own GEICO and insure 10 percent of all the cars in the United States. You evaluate the risk and you charge a premium of what you think is appropriate.” While Buffet won‚Äôt say, it‚Äôs estimated his “premium” in this case is $10 million.
Admittedly it‚Äôs unlikely, but I wonder if President Barack Obama, a huge basketball fan from childhood, submitted a Buffet Bracket. If so, then of course 5-foot-5-inch Vladimir Putin (and with obvious Napoleonic and testosterone issues), might have entered. And what if he won? First Crimea and now a Buffet billion?
Now that I think of it, maybe the NSA submitted a bracket. After all, they could easily have tapped the coaches‚Äô phones.
But realistically, what are the chances someone could accurately pick all 67 games? An NPR report put the odds at one in 9.2 quintillion. (That‚Äôs a nine, followed by 18 zeroes.) As the broadcast stated, “Quintillion is not the kind of number we actually use on this planet. It‚Äôs more of a number that a couple of 10 year olds might invent during a sleepover.”
Of course, even if someone got all the games right, considering Buffet‚Äôs worth an estimated $63 billion, it wouldn‚Äôt exactly break him. I guess 9.2 quintillion to 1 that Buffet will wind up earning a cool $10 million for just being insanely wealthy. As the saying goes, “And the rich get richer.”
If you didn‚Äôt enter Buffet‚Äôs billion-dollar bracket contest don‚Äôt feel too bad, I didn‚Äôt enter either. Not that I didn‚Äôt try. When I logged onto Buffet‚Äôs bracket application my computer was suddenly taken to the Yahoo homepage. It turns out it wasn‚Äôt by coincidence.
While the details are sketchy, Yahoo‚Äôs in on the deal. To enter, one has to have a Yahoo account. It‚Äôs expected 10 million people will enter and I‚Äôm assuming many will be new Yahoo users. Ka-ching goes the cash register.
Also, on the application was a questionnaire to fill out to be eligible. And, naturally, it asks if you‚Äôd be interested in a new mortgage. Quicken swears they won‚Äôt sell the information to anyone. Yeah, right.
But, then again, I suppose for even the dream that one might win a billion dollars, maybe it‚Äôs a fair trade. It was just a little spooky to have my computer “taken” over by remote control to the Yahoo page.
Except it‚Äôs been so long since I‚Äôve used my Yahoo account, I couldn‚Äôt remember my password. No problem, Yahoo said it would send a link to reset my password to my back-up e-mail account. Unfortunately, my backup e-mail account is so old it doesn‚Äôt exist anymore. (And I was too lazy to create another account.)
As each round of games is completed, the publicity for Buffet‚Äôs Bracket will likely be everywhere. (I should talk, I‚Äôm just adding to the mix.) This is, of course, how Quicken and Yahoo are able to pay Buffet his “premium.” For his part, Buffet, as always, seems to have a mirth to his methods.
“Just imagine the night of the championship game and there‚Äôs one person left with a perfect bracket,” Buffett said. “I‚Äôll go to that game with him or her and I‚Äôll have a check in my pocket. Though my guess is we‚Äôll be rooting for different teams.”
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.