Fantasy Football Commissioner Tips
Congratulations, you’ve been selected as your league’s fantasy football commissioner. Maybe you volunteered or were forced into it because no one else wanted the responsibility. However, running a fantasy football league can be a lot of fun.
This will be my 19th season as commissioner of the CRFFL league (Cedar Rapids Fantasy Football League). The league has come a long way since our first few seasons when stats were calculated by hand, based on the results in the USA Today. Few people today can imagine a time when there weren’t up to the minute, real-time scores and stats available on the web, but back in 1995 everything was done manually. In fact, our league went high tech when I ordered a dedicated phone line from A T & T just to allow owners to call in their weekly lineups and free agent pickups. It was pretty cool.
Have no worries about running a successful league. We have some great advice from our years of experience that will show you how to be a fantasy football commissioner.
How to be a Fantasy Football Commissioner
The role of the fantasy commissioner is to organize the draft, communicate with the owners, setup the league website, collect the entry fee money, arbitrate disputes and distribute payouts to the winners at the end of the season. This short list of duties is oversimplified, but it doesn’t have to require a significant investment in time. If you love the sport; it won’t feel like work anyway.
The role of league commissioner is more than just creating, managing and maintaining the league. The commissioner must evolve the league with an overall objective to maximize league enjoyment and owner experience.
Having a solid set of league rules or by-laws is essential to running a successful fantasy league. The rules should include the league structure, draft details, scoring system, and playoff format among others. If you are starting from scratch, retrieve some ideas from your league website and compile those settings into a Word document. Site settings will include basic format and scoring settings, but it won’t be inclusive of all league rules. Start basic and add more detail throughout the years. We actually have a four page rule book that has evolved to anticipate nearly every situation that may arise. The idea is to create a framework that reduces ambiguity and proactively wards off controversy. If it’s not listed in the rule book, some owners will look for strategic advantages that benefit their team, but may not be in the best interest of the entire league.
The rules should be discussed initially and generally agreed upon. Don’t make it a dictatorship. Allow all owners to have input. Allow changes to the rule, but require a 66% or 75% majority vote for all changes.
For more rule ideas, we’ve shared our sample fantasy football rules.
Compile a list of potential owners that will participate in an 8, 10, 12 or 14 team league. Your list should contain names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and even mailing addresses for sending post-season payouts. If possible, invite people who live in the same geographical area. We unsuccessfully attempted to allow owners to participate while living out of state, but in the end, the situation ended in owner turnover. Owners would try to draft over the phone or send a proxy person or worse yet, cancel an hour before the draft.
It’s extremely important to be organized as the commissioner. Keep a to do list of tasks that need to be completed prior to the draft, after the draft, during the season and after the season. I keep a simple to do list in Notepad that reminds me when to purchase the website, contact owners prior to the draft, collect payments, order trophies and update records…etc. Owners primarily want to have fun, but they won’t participate in a league that is run haphazardly.
If you’re using technology to automate the roster picks, verify that all of its working properly before everyone shows up. The worst situation is a draft where everyone sits around for an hour while the commissioner fumbles with the software. Most owners will have a laptop, tablet or some type of mobile device. Check your Wi-Fi settings prior to the draft to allow owners easy access to the internet during the draft.
Running a fun and organized draft is perhaps the most important role of the league commissioner. Start on time and I highly recommend doing a live, in-person draft. Our league consists of a number of college buddies and this annual event is usually the only time we see each other all year. It’s like a family reunion. Most leagues opt for the convenience of an online draft, but the best way is in-person. The league is more fun when everyone knows their opponents.
Make sure the draft date is solid and again start the draft on time. Don’t allow 11 owners to sit around twittling their thumbs while the 12th person is stuck in traffic. Each year, we run our auction-style draft on Labor Day. It’s perfect because owners have that day off work and they know to save the date each year. Labor Day is typically the last weekend prior to the NFL season. This is important because all of the NFL roster cuts have completed and there won’t be any more surprise pre-season injuries. Also, I don’t have to scramble to find an accommodating date for all 12 people, which can be tough. It’s turned into somewhat of a social event. Owners bring their kids and we even bar-b-que before the draft.
Ask each person to bring a drink and appetizer to share with the group. Food and drinks build that party atmosphere, which makes the event more special. Throw on some upbeat music and greet owners as they arrive.
Lastly, make sure owners know the entry fee amount and ensure that it’s collected on draft day. I make it clear that there are no late exceptions. If you want to play, you have to pay the entry fee. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but try to have an amount that ensures some sort of commitment on the owner’s part.
Communication is key to running a happy league. Owner turnover is bad enough, but having a key owner or two drop out just hours before your draft can cause lots of stress. Set your draft day far in advance and promote it. Call owners a few weeks prior to the date, e-mail them a few times leading up to the date and call them one last time a couple days prior to draft day just to confirm participation. Owners need to know that the league is counting on them to be there.
E-mail is a great medium for distributing league information. I sometimes repeat reminders in multiple e-mails leading up to draft day as a way to promote the event.
(One of the great resources for all fantasy league commissioners is Mark Blount’s book, The Art of Being Commish. It’s a must read for everyone that runs a league. See my review here.)
Select a website prior to draft day and have it setup in advance. This will save you time during the draft and afterwards. When owners get home, they will want to review their picks. Don’t make them wait 2-3 days to see their team. Software doesn’t have to be a website. It could be a downloaded draft tracker package or even an Excel spreadsheet.
Fantasy Football Commissioner Tools
Select a reputable site to host your league. Yahoo Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports and My Fantasy League are some of the best websites for running a league. They make the job of commissioner easy. They automatically handle rosters, weekly scoring, statistics, standings, and free agents. MFL is highly customizable. They handle virtually any scoring format you can imagine. As an added bonus, MFL provides start-sit recommendations and comprehensive player news.
Setup is easy. Register your new league. Setup a scoring system. Pick the draft type. Select a skin or theme. The only work for the commissioner is entering the initial rosters, which can be live during the draft or directly following.
Let technology do all of the heavy lifting to automate your tasks. A number of different companies offer downloadable draft toolkits for players and commissioners. These commissioner toolkits include draft boards for tracking picks, best available players (some real-time) and remaining auction dollars.
ESPN provides a wide array of tools, such as a League Inviter that allows the commissioner to create a customized video message, along with a virtual Sportscenter anchor, inviting owners to the draft. ESPN has also introduced the Enforcer to help deliver entertaining league messages to your owners.
My Fantasy League allows commissioners to host the league on their own site or URL. MFL provides custom templates and skins giving your league site a more personalized look. My Fantasy League also provides great customer service. Anytime I’ve e-mailed them with a question, they’ve responded quickly.
FFtoday has the Draft Buddy, which creates customized rankings for your scoring rules and cheat sheets for your draft. Draft Buddy is an Excel-based download. The cost is less than $20.
Since we run an auction style draft, we’ve implemented the use of the FatBox from Bigtime Fantasy Sports. The FatBox has 12 auction buttons that allow owners to bid on players as they are nominated. It includes a complete player file and software that tracks everything you need for an auction automatically. Although expensive, it’s the best thing we’ve done for our draft since we implemented an auction-style.
At the very least, the commissioner will need to provide some sort of draft board, whether hard copy or software-based, to track rosters during the draft. Prices vary from basic models downloadable for $5 to some that are more than $60. Simply Google fantasy football draft kit for plenty of league ideas.
Fantasy Football Rankings
Most fantasy football draft kits will contain detailed player profiles, player rankings, auction values, and next best player available. Additional features include bye week schedules, previous season stats, average draft position, sleeper targets and the ability to track opponents picks as they happen. The cool thing is that tools can be customized to your league’s scoring system.
Running the League
In my opinion, each league should be run with the principles of fairness, ethics, democracy and consistency. One of the top priorities as commissioner should be managing a league that is fun, fair and ethical. You’ll be faced with difficult decisions on occasion, but always maintain the integrity of the league first and foremost. Some controversies might even include your own team. If this happens, always error on the side of the league best interests versus any personal ownership gains. Owners will respect you for keeping the league ethical. The last thing you want to have happen is good owners quitting because you made a judgment call on an ambiguous league rule that favors your own team.
If you want to be the commissioner of football, sometimes you have to be tough. Be decisive when making a difficult call. My rule of thumb is to refer to the league rules. Make it black and white and stick to it. If the situation is not defined clearly in the bylaws, put the situation up for a league vote where the majority rules. It’s “their” league not yours. Keep it democratic. I don’t allow whining in my league. If a rule is unpopular, vote on this subject at the end of the season. If the matter requires immediate attention, hold a vote via e-mail that week, but rarely do these situations arise.
A situation that can derail the integrity of a good league is collusion among two owners. Unless you run a dynasty league, don’t allow owners to dump productive players just to help out a buddy with a backroom agreement to split the winnings. Proactively fend off such behavior by having a no tolerance policy in the rule book. A simple strategy is to employ a trade deadline early enough in the season (for example week 8-10) to prevent such a deal.
Furthermore, emphasize the importance of active ownership throughout the entire season no matter what place your team is in. Numerous leagues lose their luster later in the year because three or four teams dominate and the bottom few teams pack it in early. The best way to handle this situation is to design a system that promotes parity in the league where every team has a chance to qualify for the playoffs up until the final couple weeks of the regular season. Qualify the top six teams or more for the playoffs. Encourage the bottom teams to work the waiver wire and submit lineups, despite having a losing record.
It’s important to league success to reduce owner turnover from year to year. It’s difficult for a fantasy football league commissioner to completely avoid it, but there are some techniques that will minimize attrition. Retaining all of the owners each year will make your job easier.
- First of all, invite owners that are passionate about football and who are committed to trying their best. Our entry fee is just shy of $100, which may sound a little high compared to most leagues, but it ensures a little bit of commitment. It’s much easier for a fantasy player to “pack it in” after just week 7 for a free fantasy league, but if you have some skin in the game for $100, chances are you‘ll keep trying.
- Secondly, passionate owners that love football and watch the games will be more active on the waiver wire and will be more likely to stick around the following season. Avoid inviting casual friends who just want to screw around and drink beer at the draft. They’ll play a year or two and then you’ll soon end up searching for a replacement.
- I like to promote all-time records. I keep a spreadsheet for each franchise of their all-time win-loss records and number of top three placings. People take pride in winning multiple championships and being one of the top all-time teams. Similarly, I track the all-time records for individual player, single-game points. This little extra helps tie owners into the league across seasons.
- Keep in contact with your owners. For some reason, owners like to share their experiences during the season. I like to e-mail owners after a close win or tough loss. This gesture lets them know that they’re not playing in isolation. Monday mornings are more fun if you can share a close victory with a co-worker around the water cooler. Better yet, send them a text message when one of their studs scores a touchdown on Sunday. Chances are they’re watching too and will appreciate the feeling of playing together. Don’t forget to chat it up with all of the owners. This goes a long way toward retention.
- Implement a keeper player. While I like the idea of a dynasty league that allows teams to keep most or their entire roster the following year, it’s not a good technique for owner retention. Bottom dwellers will quickly lose interest at the thought of waiting multiple years for success and will quit. However, allowing owners to keep one or two players encourages participation the following season. While one player isn’t sufficient to build a championship, it’s encouraging to have a stud to build a team around.
- Don’t forget to host a year-end party following the season. Parties are fun! This is a good opportunity to payout the winnings and present the championship trophy. There’s no doubt that winning a championship in our league is the ultimate goal for the owners; in lieu of just winning some cash, therefore, I make a big deal out of this event. I even give each owner a fantasy football championship ring that they can wear at the draft. The year-end party and a traveling trophy just tie it all together.
- Never try to profit from the league by “marking up” costs for the website, software, or other tools required to run the league. It’s ok to pass along the costs of the site and software to the league by subtracting the amount from the entry fee money, but never charge the league more than it actually costs.
- Running the fantasy league with honesty and integrity is a given. Owners won’t stick around if the commissioner shows favoritism in a critical ruling toward a buddy or his own team. Never show bias.
- Always give owners something to play for. Structure the rules so that each team can remain as competitive as possible for a playoff spot then create a consolation bracket for the bottom half of the division. Award a small prize for the team that scores the most points each week. Keep owners involved and engaged throughout the entire season.
- Lastly, keep it fresh. This can be a challenge for leagues that have been around for a number of years, but try to introduce a subtle rule or scoring change each year that can make the league more fun. In the last few years, we’ve added points for defensive sacks, implemented a blind bid waiver system, and tweaked the Injured Reserve (IR) rule. Implement a rule change that is slightly different than other leagues. Doing too many changes at once can scare owners off, but incorporating one or two small changes (upon league vote) per year can keep it fresh for the veteran owners.
Fantasy Commissioner Summary
If you follow our advice, you’ll have no trouble running a successful league. Whether this is your first time as fantasy football league commissioner or you’ve done it for several seasons, these fantasy football commissioner tips will improve your overall league enjoyment.
If you have any questions or feedback pertaining to running a league, feel free to drop me an e-mail on our contact page or post a comment for the community.
Enjoy and good luck!