As the temperature starts to cool in the northeast (mother nature knows it’s August, right?), many people’s thoughts turn to fall and everything that comes with it. Kids go back to school, jeans and sweatshirts reappear in closets, and the cool breeze from air conditioners is replaced by the warm gusts of furnaces.
There’s also football.
Not just football, but fantasy football.
No other activity garners as much excitement or year-round discussions amongst my friends and coworkers (just ask their wives/girlfriends) than the annual attempt to prove that you’re smarter (i.e. luckier) than everyone else in your fantasy football league.
I’ve been the commissioner of our fantasy league for the past 8 years and could share some insight into drafting the perfect team (I’ve ended up in the top 3 in all seasons but 1). But we’ll save that for another post.
Nay, this post is about the singular event that will define the season for all those who partake in it. I’m talking of course, about that wonderful Christmas in August, the poor man’s US Open, the one and only….fantasy football draft.
Now I’ve partaken in a number of drafts over the years, and have heard stories about many others. All range from online only drafts, to massive after-hours workplace events, to pilgrimages to Vegas, to anywhere in between. Here are some tips for maximizing of the most holy of football related holidays, on any budget.
Tip #1: Draft in Person
This tip cannot be understated. Most fantasy sites offer free online drafting. This basically means that everyone in your league, regardless of where they are in the world, logs into a website at the same time and picks players off of a digital list. Does this accomplish the goal of building your fantasy teams? Yes. Should you do it? No.
A few years ago our league decided to make the switch from online drafting to in-person drafting, even though a number of the league members live out-of-town and would have to journey to get here.
After 3 minutes of drafting in-person we all agreed never to go back to the online method.
Why? Many leagues, such as ours, consist of friends or family members who probably don’t get together as often as they’d like. An in-person draft gives them an excuse to get some face time for a few hours and heightens the anticipation for the event (I’m drafting my team AND Squirrel will be there?! Yes please!).
A couple of years ago when the NFL was on strike, we made the mistake of not scheduling our in-person draft until it was too late and everyone couldn’t make the journey. So we fell back on the online draft… and everyone was miserable. Those who lived in town still tried to meet in one location so they could all be in the same room together. But as soon as the draft started, it just felt “off”.
Before long we were desperately trying to Skype, group call, or whatever we could possibly do to recreate that feeling that everyone was together “for real” as opposed to just online.
Now, even though we typically draft at the end of August, we schedule the draft date 8 months in advanced. That way everyone has it on their calendars, and can schedule the rest of their summer around the draft. And EVERYONE in the league would have it no other way.
Drafting in person also leads me to the next point….
Tip #2: Make it as authentic as possible
Deep down all fantasy players are doing the same thing: pretending to manage their own NFL team. No better way to heighten the experience than to make the draft and the league feel as “authentic” as possible.
To share a quick story: my sister-in-law’s husband (brother-in-law-in-law?), Panda, works for a large accounting company. Every year they hold a corporate fantasy draft and it works as follows:
- Teams are managed by multiple employees, and the winning team gets a pot that all of the partners pay into.
- On draft day, they designate a large conference room as “Draft Central”. This is where teams actually announce who they’ve decided to draft.
- Each team meets in their own, smaller conference room to make decisions on which players they’d like to draft.
- When it’s your team’s turn to pick, you send a team representative from your conference room to “Draft Central” where they announce the player that you’ve chosen to the rest of the league.
I’m not sure you can get more authentic than that unless you’re an NFL staff member.
Now not all of us are fortunate enough to work somewhere like Panda, and aren’t about to shell out the cash to rent a facility with enough rooms for each team. But just look around, there’s a lot to learn from how others enhance their draft days. You should take the best ideas and…
Tip #3 Customize the experience
A few years ago we had a contest to pick an “authentic” name and logo for our league. After numerous rounds of voting, we settled on the name “Steeltown Fantasy League” or the “SFL”.
Thanks to some basic graphic design experience, I was able to whip up a few versions of the logo above, which was a cheap (free!) way of making it feel like more than just any-old-fantasy-league.
Tip #4: Make it rain Doritos
Or pretzels, pizza, hoagies, whatever. 17 rounds (or however many you draft) is a long time to sit and focus without a break. Stop mid-way through to reflect on your teams while everyone enjoys a succulent snack.
Tip #5: Get the business out of the way first
What’s on everyone’s minds at the beginning of the draft? “Who am I going to take with my first pick?”
What’s on their mind at the end? “Man my team is awesome/bodacious/turrible/bleh.”
When is a good time to discuss an increase in league fees, or changes to the rules?
There isn’t one. That’s why you should just get it out of the way before the first pick is even made. That way, everyone can settle in and relax, and focus on the one thing that matters: how much better my team is than everyone elses.
Have some fantasy draft tips or stories of your own? Share them in the comments below!
Good luck everyone.