updated 1/24/2007 11:19:26 AM ET 2007-01-24T16:19:26

Get your mind off the Super Bowl for a minute, will you? It's time for the annual warning about lost worker productivity due to the nation's favorite midwinter diversion.

A day after the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts earned spots in the Feb. 4 game, a consulting firm estimated that lost wages could exceed $16 million a minute as millions of Americans chat about the game, plan parties, organize betting pools or research big-screen TVs.

That's more than $820 million from the week before the game alone.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. based its estimate on an anticipated audience of 90 million tuning in to the game, along with figures about the national employment rate and average pay. Its analysts calculated that employers around the nation will pay football fans $162 million for every 10 unproductive minutes they spend discussing the game or reading about it online.

The biggest Super Bowl slackers, not surprisingly, should be found in Chicago and Indianapolis.

Challenger pegs the potential total of lost wages paid to the 3.9 million in Chicago's work force at about $73 million. In Indianapolis, the loss could amount to $2.5 million.

Having a city's team in the Super Bowl can be a bonanza, of course, for businesses such as bars, restaurants and retailers.

John Challenger, the firm's chief executive, emphasized that his firm isn't trying to put a damper on the fun or suggest that companies ban betting pools. He acknowledged that some productivity gains can come from a friendlier workplace and higher employee morale.

"We just want to inject a little sobriety into the discussion around the country, especially here in Chicago,'' he said in a telephone interview. "In every office, there are sports junkies and others who are caught up in the hoopla around the Super Bowl. In Chicago ... there might be some offices that grind to a halt.''

Overall, Challenger noted: "There are always distractions in the workplace. The Super Bowl is just one more.''

Case in point: The Super Bowl isn't even the biggest productivity inhibitor among U.S. sporting events. That honor goes to March Madness, the NCAA basketball championship tournament, when many early round games are played during regular working hours.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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