Say you love the idea of fantasy football, but don’t have a league to join. Or you’re frustrated by your current league and want to try something new. Here’s our guide to starting a fantasy football league.
Sure, parts of getting a league underway are easy. You can go to ESPN or Yahoo!, set up league, send out some email invites to football fans you know, and let everyone know when draft day happens. But guess what? A lot can go awry between the beginning of a league and the end of the season. If you don’t agree, just ask Mike Trout.
To make a fantasy football league successful, here are the important steps to take.
Appoint a commissioner and a co-commissioner.
Quite simply, the people in these positions will make or break your league. A weak or unfocused commissioner will turn your league from a fun exercise into a series of escalating arguments.
The right commissioner isn’t necessarily the team owner who knows the most about football or has an encyclopedic recall of its history. Passion is great, but it only gets a commissioner so far. Your commissioner and a co-commissioner should be able to manage all the personalities and have a democratic, transparent leadership style. Few things brings down a league faster than questions about the integrity of the commissioner.
Your commissioner also needs to have enough time to focus on the role. Depending on the league, it can be like a full-time, unpaid job. It takes someone who isn’t caught up in 80—hour workweeks in their day job. They’ll also need the right personality—not everyone knows how to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of an intense fantasy football league. Finally, make sure they have game-day availability—nothing fires up league members like the inability to make last-minute moves.
The best co-commissioner is, quite often, someone appointed by the commissioner. A good working relationship between these two will help ensure that your league runs smoothly.
Determine your fantasy football league format.
Not every fantasy football league runs the same way. That’s why so many fans play in multiple ones each season.
The most intense, serious fantasy football league is called a dynasty league. In a dynasty league, teams roll over from one season to the next so it’s the closest replica of actually owning and building an NFL franchises. After the initial draft, subsequent drafts only include league rookies, and players stay on a team unless an owner trades them, cuts them, or the player retires. In other words, it’s no one-and-done approach. It’s a commitment.
The more typical, traditional fantasy football league lasts for just a single season. Players are drafted before the first game, and the league is done when the NFL season wraps up. The following year, there’s a new draft and all players are available to all the league owners—no holdovers. It’s far more casual, and the kind of league that is run by office colleagues or neighborhood friends.
Invite other team owners into your fantasy football league.
Who will be the other team owners will depend a lot upon the format of your league.
If it’s a dynasty league, you’ll want to gather a collection of serious fantasy football players. They are in it for the long haul, and you don’t want owners suddenly throwing in the towel. The stakes are usually higher, so that tends to deliver a natural selection process. But don’t invite a friend who is a casual NFL fan into a dynasty league. They won’t do well, and they won’t enjoy the commitment it requires. You’ll wind up risking a friendship for your hobby.
But a traditional league? Well, for that you just want people you enjoy spending time around. It could be open to everyone in your office, or you can invite friends you know you’ll enjoy spending time with on draft night. Try to avoid anyone you know who can be difficult, and you’ll probably want to keep out players who are uber serious about fantasy football. If someone takes it that seriously, they are likely to be the ones who complain and create problems with other ones. It’s best if everyone in a traditional league understands the intent of the operation, and it’s nice if you find people with a similar level of interest in the NFL. That’s not 100% necessary though—we all know the guy who wins the league by picking his team based on the results of this throws on a dartboard!
Collect the fantasy football league buy-ins.
Sure there are fantasy leagues with no dollars at stake. But let’s face it—fantasy football leagues work best when everyone has a financial stake of some kind in it.
Before draft day, make sure everyone has paid the buy-in, no matter how small or large it may be. It’s lousy if the commissioner and co-commissioner of your fantasy football league have to spend time chasing down entry fees. Even worse, if someone who owes the entry fee starts the season poorly, you’re going to have an even harder time securing that money.
Make it easy for everyone to pay—use Venmo or PayPal or some other online form of payment that eliminates barriers to getting the cash in hand. But make sure it’s pay up to show up on draft day—it’s a simple rule you don’t want to overlook.
Make your fantasy football league rules crystal clear.
It’s great to have a lot of discussion and maybe even a vote on league rules before draft day. But if you do have a vote, always make sure you wind up with a clear majority on any changes or proposals. You don’t want a divided league from the outset.
Most importantly, post and review the rules. It’s good practice on draft day for the commissioner to review the most important ones so everyone is on the same page. Clarity up front prevents confusion and controversy later.
You’ll also want to communicate the payouts up front. Once everyone has paid the buy-in, you’ll know the amounts that will be available to distribute. Make sure everyone knows what the payments will be—winners, weekly winners, runner-ups, etc. Every dollar should be accounted for before the NFL season gets underway.
Some fantasy football leagues pay the commissioner a small stipend for their efforts. If you plan to do that, be transparent about it as soon as possible.
Establish your fantasy football league schedule and playoffs.
Another point of contention can be the schedule, so establish it early. How will the regular season work? What will the playoffs look like? How will bye weeks be handled? Do you want to introduce some interesting concepts like Rivalry Week?
Make sure your playoff format is also clear. Which teams will qualify? Will there be a consolation bracket so low finishers have a chance to get their buy-in back? That’s an effective way to ensure that poor performers stay interested as the season progresses.
Schedule and set up Draft Day.
It’s basically the most important event for any Fantasy Football league. So you don’t want to screw it up.
Decide on a date after consulting with team owners to find a time that is convenient for most people—it’s helpful to use an online pool. Don’t put it off—make sure you have enough time to inform everyone when Draft Day will happen.
Try to use Zooms or Teams for a live draft if it’s impossible to get everyone together for a fun experience. Seeing other league owners and watching everything unfold will help generate enthusiasm for your fantasy football league.
If you really struggle to find a date that works with everyone’s schedule, consider a Slow Draft. This process unfolds over a week or two, with each team owner informed when it’s their pick and then having a window of time in which to make their selection.
Finally, even if you think no one will ask about it, make the actual draft process clear. Most fantasy football leagues use a Snake-style draft. Expect complaints if you don’t.
Provide regular updates throughout the fantasy football season.
This is another duty that probably falls to the Commissioner and Co-Commissioner, unless you find someone willing to take on the task of communicating with other league owners.
Updates and other communications throughout the season fuel continued interest in your fantasy football league. Whether it’s a simple weekly email with results and updated standings, or automated messages sent whenever there are trades or lineup changes, it’s vital for enthusiasm. A league that fails is one that leaves owners in the dark. Eventually, that leads to a loss interest and decline in enthusiasm.
Have fun with your Fantasy Football league.
Unless you’re a professional sports handicapper, don’t forget that your fantasy football league is meant to be a fun diversion that helps you stay engaged in a professional sport you love.
Even if substantial dollars are at stake—remember to play within your means—enjoy the whole process. See it as a chance to test your skills as an NFL team manager, and an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the game. If you wind up breaking even, great. If you end up with some cash in your pocket at the end of the season, even better.
Bottom line: getting the initial steps done correctly and fairly is the key to starting a fantasy football league. Manage them well and you’ll be on your way to a great experience.
Want to win big? Fantasy Guru’s will help give you the insiders edge you need to win big in your fantasy football league.