8 Ways to Keep Owners Engaged in Your Fantasy Football League
Running a fantasy football league can be fun, but also challenging. The goal, over time, is for your league to run smoothly enough so it doesn’t take up a lot of your personal time. After all, as life goes on, spouses and kids start to take up more of your precious hours, and that likely means that time comes from your fantasy football world.
Whether you have the time or not, running a league does require some work to make it successful. And, for those who are always striving to be the best commissioners, that work is never done.
Unfortunately, as the commissioners of two fantasy football leagues, I don’t make the millions of dollars Roger Goodell does. In the end, all I get is the satisfaction that the owners in my league hopefully had a good time and will keep coming back for more. It’s important to keep the owners in your league engaged so they don’t lose interest over the 17 weeks of the season and even the offseason.
So as a commissioner myself, I’ve come up with a few ideas on how to keep owners engaged in your league. I’ve also played in enough leagues with really good commissioners who have done a great job keeping things lively that I have stolen their ideas as well.
So let’s take a look at how we can help your league.
Have a Live Draft
I can’t stress enough how cool a live, in-person fantasy draft is if you’ve never been a part of one. Obviously not every league can gather everyone together in the same space to draft. But one thing we’ve learned over the last few weeks and months is people can still be together using Zoom or Microsoft Teams or any other meeting program.
Live, in-person drafts will probably be the best day of your fantasy league. I’ve compared it to the Daytona 500, which is NASCAR’s biggest race, which also comes in the first week of the season.
You can make your fantasy draft as big of an event as you want it. Even make a day of it. In the past, I’ve tailgated and cooked out in the hours leading up to the draft, pretty much turning it into a party or a picnic. I hold my draft the same day every year, the Friday before Labor Day, so there is never a question of when it’s going to be and owners need to set that day aside every year (it’s still easier said than done). Many times, I hold my draft outdoors, and the weather is usually beautiful on an early September night in Pennsylvania.
As far as the draft goes, there are endless possibilities. Many leagues have each owner step up to a podium to at least announce their first-round pick. You can have a draft board that lists all the picks, which also should help to prevent repeated picks—something that will happen at a live draft. Your draft can be as long or as short as you want it, but once you attend a live draft, picking on a website with a timer will not be nearly as fun anymore.
One thing about a live draft is it will take some time. A quick draft is fine if you want to get it done in a couple of hours and sometimes that's what everyone wants. A live draft will take much longer, especially with no timer set per pick. While there are some who will take longer than others, I do find a majority of my owners are ready to go when their pick comes. So even a well-prepared, live draft will only take slightly longer than a timed draft. It's just the time before and after your live draft you need to account for.
Change Your Playoff Format
Giving more teams a shot at the playoffs can really keep owners involved in the season. Sure it sounds like coach-speak, but one thing I learned after all these years is in fantasy football, just getting in means anything can happen after that. I’ve had my share of top-seeded teams go on to win money. I’ve had my share of top-seeded teams lose early on in the playoff process, too.
Traditionally, having more than half the teams in your league make the playoffs is probably frowned upon by the older generation. But let’s face it, having six of 10 teams, for example, make the playoffs keep most of the teams in the league alive for a berth deep into the season. And when that’s the case, more owners are interested.
Another thing you can do during playoff time is have the non-contenders compete for SOMEthing—anything really. The easiest thing to do is have them compete for draft order, giving the winner of the loser’s bracket the top pick, or first choice of picks next season. You can also set aside money and have them compete for a little prize. Or, the loser of the losers has to do something like host the draft, get a tattoo or whatever else you come up with. I’ll have more on this in another story. The idea is simply keeping everyone involved and preventing owners from losing interest.
Money and Prizes
This is probably the biggest thing that will motivate fantasy owners—prizes. Unless your league has a sponsor (I’m joking) the money will have to come for the owners’ pockets. Times are tough these days, so this may not be the easiest thing to do, but the higher the league fee, the more you can do as a commish to come up with prizes and incentives. Side prizes will also cut away from the overall winners’ money, but it really depends on how deep of a prize pool you want to do. Some leagues like to award a top-five while others will do first and second only. I’ve been in leagues who will give a prize to a division winner, along with the highest point-getter. Division winner prizes help to ease the pain of an early-round playoff exit—at least a little.
You can also devote some money to a weekly prize. It can be the highest point-scorer or the winner of the biggest blow-out of the week. The key is finding a balance and still having the overall winner of your league get a nice money-grab while still having fun, side prizes for others. As a commish, it’s important to plan this out ahead of time and announce before the season so there are never any questions about how money is divided up.
While this goes right in line with prizes, one thing I wish I would have done in my league was award a trophy to the winner every year. This can be taken out of the league fees and there are plenty of sites out there with quality, inexpensive trophies. This is something that shouldn’t come out of the commissioner’s pocket, but honestly, it’s the easiest way to go about it sometimes. I’ve found trophies that are around $20 that I give out in my family leagues that I run, and season-long pick’em leagues that are all free to play, so I have to buy it myself but the winners love it and they always display them.
While money is nice, getting a trophy is something that will last forever. One of my leagues has a single trophy, which is a decent size and displays little plaques with the winner’s name and the year they won. The trophy can be added to in layers when needed, and the commish pays for the shipping to send it to the winner to keep for a year as we have owners from all over the country. This is also a great way to reward the champion of your league, although it involves going above the normal routine to pull it off. It’s something everyone will appreciate though.
Another idea for an award is to give the highest-scoring team in Week 18 a prize. I’m not a big fan of having the finals in Week 18, but there is no sense in making it a dead week in your league. Set aside a couple of dollars to award a prize this week—it keeps everyone involved right through the end of the season.
Use Write-Ups and Polls
This is something I use to keep my owners interested. It also helps to keep me up-to-date on things going on in the league, especially the playoff picture. Usually every Wednesday or Thursday I like to publish a write-up to recap the week before and also to look ahead at key matchups for the current week. Most of this time, I’d post it to the host site’s main page, but in this day and age where everything is done on your phone, I wasn’t sure if everyone was even reading it. So a couple of years ago, I just started emailing it to owners instead.
I’m in a few leagues that use this tactic to keep everyone interested. Some do it better than others but the fun thing to do is maybe steal ideas from one another and use them in your own write-up. One particular league has a tell-it-like-it-is commish who never holds back. One time, someone complained he was a little too harsh, so the following week wrote a puppies-and-rainbow-type report that was full of positive talk and “nice try” motivation that was full of sarcasm. It may have been the funniest write-up I’ve ever read, but it shows just how creative you can be with these.
So what kind of things can you put in your write-up? The good news is you don’t have to have a background in journalism to pull this off. It can be as simple as just looking back at the previous week’s scores and highlighting key players. I like to point out the highest-scoring team as well as the highest-scoring players. From there, you can go deeper, point out the highest-scoring player that was on a team’s bench that may or may not have changed the outcome of the game. You can do it nicely or maybe call it “The Big Dummy Award,” like one of my leagues does.
If you haven’t guessed by now, the commish can really use this as a weapon to make fun of and bust on other teams. And that’s what this is all about.
Another thing I like to do is a power poll, similar to what used to appear in the Sporting News back in the day for baseball. At least that’s what I remember it from. I rank the teams using my own judgments and then add a comment or two that maybe goes into detail. Most of these speak for themselves and it’s not like you have to dive deep into stats to come up with something to say. Some of my friends say I seem to be cursing them when I put them at the top of the poll—but I would never do such a thing…
The final thing I do, starting around Week 7 or 8, is focus on the playoff picture. If the playoffs started the current week, what do the matchups look like, who is getting the bye and what teams at the bottom looking up may need to happen to get in? Chances are those in your league may not even be aware of these things, and while it may take some time on your part to research, it just makes you more knowledgeable in the end.
The bit of bad news is all this can take up some time, and the key for you, the writer, is to keep yourself motivated as well. Usually, about halfway through the season, I start to regret that I decided to do this. I usually write them at work instead or at home, so that keeps me going the full season. You can also have guest writers throughout the season, maybe have the top, or even the last place owner, every couple weeks do the write-up to give you a much-deserved break.
Some of the coolest ideas I’ve come across when it comes to engaging owners involve divisions and tweaking them every year or from time-to-time.
I’m not sure how long these ideas have been around, but one of my leagues allows the winner of the league to name the divisions, or at least one of them. You can have all of the previous year’s division winners each name a division as well. This is a great way to get under the skin of other owners as usually they are named after a favorite team or a player on a favorite team. Given the wide variety of fandom these days, it’s sure to annoy someone if—and this is just an example of course and not meant to offend —you’re playing in a division that honors a Cowboy.
This same league also takes the last-place teams in each division and allows them to pick the divisions for the following year. This is usually done a week before the actual draft takes place—and in this case, all of our keepers have been submitted (we keep six players each year). So, you have a pretty good idea about how solid each team will be heading into the draft. There is a lot of draft pick movement in this league, so obviously that needs to be taken into account.
This is a fun way to create new rivalries and also talk some smack. A lot of talk comes up as to why owners make the picks they do, so it’s a great way to start league conversation before draft day.
Use Social Media and Web Tools
If you’re like me, between family, work, maintaining a property, coaching youth sports and just everyday life, you don’t have a lot of time to do much else but sleep.
Back in my days of being single, it was a lot easier to get together with friends, or league-mates, to talk about fantasy football or even engage in trade talks. Today, that’s pretty impossible, but the good news is there are ways to do it online. Creating a Facebook page for just your league allows everyone to talk more freely and frequently. With Zoom such a big thing nowadays, you can set up monthly meetings to talk about how the league is going, suggestions for changes or even trade talks. You could even do it on a Thursday night while a game is on in the background.
Have a Lottery
If your league doesn’t have a rule for the following year’s draft order, holding a lottery is a fun way to do it. This can obviously be done if your league is redraft and you start over each year, or even if you have keepers and use reverse order and have the non-playoff teams be in a lottery.
One thing to do to keep owners wanting to win, is to give the best team not to make the playoffs the highest chance to get the first pick. This should keep owners trying right through the end of the season. The last thing you want is a tanking owner down the stretch who wants to lose while handing potential playoff teams easy wins.
You can also have a playoff for the non-playoff teams, with the winner getting the highest chance to get the top pick.
The lottery is something to you can do after the season is over, or a few weeks before the draft, which is probably a better option as it starts the season off over the summer and gets everyone thinking about fantasy football again.
What you can use, and I do this myself, is an old-school bingo game, the kind that has the balls in a spinner and you physically spin it until a ball comes out. You can scale the lottery with percentages, for example, the top team can be any ball with “B” on it and maybe give them 10 balls, while the next team can be “I” and maybe have six balls. Use Zoom or any kind of a web-based platform to broadcast the lottery for all to see.
There are tons of ways to keep people interested in your league. Most of these don’t involve a ton of work to pull off and they should help your league prosper for years to come.