Sunday, August 20, 2017

Five Lessons From A Fantasy League Commissioner

Cross-posted from the business blog. Enjoy, or not.

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Twice in the next week, I'll participate in fantasy football drafts; once in the office, the other in a basement that's 3,000 miles away from where I currently live. When these drafts happen, I will act as Commissioner, because this is a thing that I do, and herd the cats who are in the leagues to all come together and do a transparently dumb thing as a single group. I've performed this role for (gulp) over thirty years, in a wide range of leagues, ranging from dear friends and relatives to near total strangers.

Here's what I've learned, over the many years and situations, that have helped to inform the person that I am when working as a marketing and advertising pro. You might find it helpful. (But not as helpful as when to draft Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry, perhaps the best handcuff in the league this year. That's clearly a state secret.)

1) Your worst client will always take up the majority of your time.

Whether it's someone who can't get their protections on time, struggles with the tech, needs an inordinate amount of follow-up requests to pay the dues, takes way more time to make their picks than everyone else, or just finds some other way to throw a wrench in the works... well, this has made for *wonderful* training on dealing with particular clients. Keeping your composure when all you really want to do is spit fire at someone for making things difficult is an incredibly valuable life skill, but it's also kind of like getting to the gym every day for maintenance work. You might need to figure out ways to self-motivate.

2) People are going to make fun of you for the very reasons why you have the gig.

In the league that I run out of the basement, there will be giant labels, several kinds of Sharpies, clipboards and pens and assigned seating, and an inordinate amount of getting things Just So. Owners are appreciative, but they also will make jokes about this, re-arrange things just to see if they can get my goat, and so on.

The point is that if you are a good commish, you have to sweat the details, and sweating the details is just an irresistible softball in the search for humor. I (honestly) don't really mind, because this is just how I'm wired. Making fun of me for this stuff is kind of like making fun of my height or hair color; have at it. I didn't choose it, so I'll probably join in.

3) Bad ideas are like weeds, or zombies; they always return.

If you have an owner or two that wants to change a rule, and it gets voted down or rejected, rest assured that it will return at some point, with as much force and vigor as previous. There is a strong intersection of math, engineering and problem solving in the mindset of fantasy sports, and people like to think they are right about things, otherwise they wouldn't say it.

So the owner in your league that hates kickers, and wants to ban them... will always hate kickers, and will always want to ban them. They might even be right. And they'll ask until they get their way, or the sun burns out. Best to just shrug and move on.

4) Balancing the interests of the league against the interests of your team is tough.

Running my basement league, for me, is a mix of conducting an auction while also trying to make picks for my own club, which leads to mistakes for both sides. It's also my built-in excuse for not having a particularly good team, but what's more likely is that I just don't do as well in football as other leagues. Finally, if you are in a league with especially competitive people, rule changes or innovations that you propose will be regarded with suspicion, because they'll seem like they are in the interest of your team first, and the league second. The only way to overcome this is by building up goodwill and precedent as an honorable dealer. There are no shortcuts to that status.

5) This is all part of your personal brand.

I've had job interviews where the conversation went to personal habits, and I've always felt that this was a competitive advantage for me, because my hobbies... well, speak to my professional attributes. It's one thing to say that I sweat the details; it's quite another to rattle off the particulars of my various leagues. People like to hire folks with good references, because retaining clients is a critical skill in business. I have clients in these leagues that have spent the majority of their lives with me. Innovating in small spaces, learning from outside sources, caring about the happiness of your partners, self-awareness and self-deprecation for when you are nerding out with abandon...

Well, I'm putting data and precedent to these claims, rather than just saying them.

Good luck with your drafts!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Fields Of Privilege

I spend about a quarter of my life driving now. This includes my entire life, so if we want to pull sleep out of the equation, it's probably more like a third.

Driving to work. Driving to the gym. Driving to do laundry, get groceries, get gas. Driving for strangers in my side hustle, because that's what the math tells me to do right now, and arguing with math is rarely a good idea.

Sports? Well, I listen to the A's games on the radio, and I read newsletters that might help me not be quite so terrible and unqualified in my leagues. But I don't have cable (hell, I don't even have a TV), don't go to games, and don't spend nearly the same amount of time and energy thinking about it.

That stuff has been replaced by the day job and podcasts and political concerns, and if I have time left over, maybe playing a guitar or getting on a stage and trying my hand at stand up. Or sitting at a poker table, because sometimes that works out for the math, too. Eventually, I might add in a shift as a security guard, because that money will happen without more miles hitting my car.

Sports has, effectively, been priced out of my market. At least for now.

Not so much on the actual cost, but the time one. I have 126 hours or so of waking life every week to make money, and I pretty much spend about 100 of them doing that.

This condition isn't permanent, because nothing in life is, and you don't have to really follow sports to have opinions about them. (Short take this week: the fact that Colin Kaepernick isn't one of the best 96 quarterbacks in the world is plainly ridiculous on its face, but ridiculous is what the NFL does best, and every day he isn't on a field is a day where that fact gets a little less ridiculous. Because playing football is an insane way to try to make money, and a blood bargain that its fans have to hold their nose to more every day. It's all ridiculous. But since we don't have to currently rank Kaepernick on our fantasy rankings, out of sight, out of mind. Try not to think about what this means to political discourse, or the chilling of speech towards people of color.)

So if simply watching or following sports is a privilege, and one that far too many people pay for whether they do it or not, assuming we don't cord-cut and stop the de facto national subsidy in our cable bills...

Well, that's just the thing, isn't it? It feels like they didn't use to be. It feels like you used to be able to just put on a game without quite such a dent in your actual or mental checkbook, escape the real world for a few hours, think about nothing but what went on between the lines.

I'm not sure I can do that anymore.

But hey, things change, right?

Sometimes for the better?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Jerry Jones Got An Ugly New Jacket Because, Well, Money

Nip, Tuck, Die
In alphabetical order, the list of front office personnel who have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Note that I'm not listing coaches, and plenty of these guys held that role in addition to being a GM or an owner. But you get the gist.)

George Allen
Bert Bell
Charles Bidwill
Paul Brown
Joseph Carr
Al Davis
Eddie DeBartolo
Weeb Ewbank
Jim Finks
Sid Gillman
George Halas
Lamar Hunt
Jerry Jones
Curly Lambeau
Vince Lombardi
Tim Mara
Wellington Mara
George Preston Marshall
Bill Polian
Dan Reeves
Art Rooney
Dan Rooney
Pete Rozelle
Tex Schramm
Jim Thorpe
Ralph Wilson
Ron Wolf

More than you might have thought, right? Well, that's football for you: the rich guys who got richer for exploiting the talent are awfully good at congratulating themselves for that. But let's dig into this a bit.

George Allen won with middling talent. Bert Bell founded the league. Bill Bidwill... well, whatever, the Bidwills suck and have always sucked, but maybe ol' Bill had blackmail material. Paul Brown was a genius. Joseph Carr got in because the NFL always inducts their commissioners. Al Davis was a genius, and probably would have sued if he wasn't in. Eddie DaBartolo won a lot, and was beloved even when he cheated, mostly because he cheated in ways that actually put money in player's pockets.

Weeb Ewbank won in New York; that always gets you in a Hall of Fame, regardless of league. Jim Finks ran three middling franchises and probably collected a lot of incriminating photographs. Sid Gillman invented the modern passing game. George Halas damn near invented the league.

Lamar Hunt was critical to founding the AFL. Curly Lambeau was a legend; Vince Lombardi is *the* legend. The Maras and Rooneys get in because the NFL has always had hard-ons for the Giants and Steelers. George Preston Marshall moved a team to DC and had an on-again, off-again affair with Louise Brooks, and I can only carry so much hate for a man who bedded Brooks. Bill Polian built contenders in three cities, and kept the Patriots from utterly dominating the 21st century.

Dan Reeves got the league to the West Coast. Rozelle made it profitable with the use of TV. Schramm built the borderline dominant Cowboy teams, Jim Thorpe made the game mean something at the dawn of football, Ralph Wilson introduced football to Buffalo, and Ron Wolf won in Green Bay, which is almost as good as winning in New York or Pittsburgh.

And now we come to the newest member of this caste cast, one Jerry Jones. Who won Super Bowls when he just wrote the checks, and has barely won any games of consequence ever since. Sure, Dallas occasionally rattles off a deceptively big year, just like every other franchise in the NFC LEast over the last couple of decades, but they inevitably fall apart in a favored playoff game, then fall off a cliff the year after that, mostly because Jones can't help himself from overdosing on bad character dudes who can't keep their noses clean for very long. He's responsible for some of the biggest reprobates drawing a paycheck in our lifetimes, and he's also responsible for treating a Hall of Fame coach (Tom Landry) like he was Willy Loman. If your idea of a Hall of Fame owner is a paper tiger team fronted by a grinning death mask of plastic surgery, Jones is your guy.

But that isn't why he's in the Hall of Fame, and everyone knows it. Jones got in because he showed everyone else the way to even greater riches: build a pleasure palace for the worst and richest men in America, stick local tax paying rubes with the bill, and treat it as the greatest possible tribute to yourself. The fact that the stadiums are never necessary doesn't matter. Then watch as the nation's sports media fawns over it, all because the NFL is staffed by guys who think subtle should be spelled without the b, because you don't really hear it. No new stadium has ever been described as less than the greatest invention since the blow job, and no owner who has ever gotten one failed to, well, get one from the media for years afterward. Even when the stadium clearly stinks on ice.

Jerry Jones is to football ownership as Donald Trump is to the Oval Office; a new and precedent-crushing low, where a clown and an asshat masquerades as the Emperor, and no one drawing a significant paycheck notes the nudity. The fact that it's all a facade, and actual Cowboy fans (there are some, honest, pushed below decks every time the team wins more games than it loses by the bandwagoneers) dream of the day where Jones dies, so that actual competent GM work will take over, but even that is a hollow hope, considering that he's got his cracker spawn all over the place as well... well, none of that matters, because NFL owners don't really love NFL owners who win games.

They do, however, love the ones that make them more money. Preferably by showing them that silly little notions like class, human decency, or even a trace amount of self-awareness and humility is for the rubes who can no longer afford tickets to games.

So yes, Jerry Jones is now enshrined in Pro Football's Hall of Fame, with a bronze likeness of his douchebag face and skull to reside for all eternity, or however long it is that humans care about football and draw breath.

Oh, and if you want to feel just a teeny tiny bit better about that, and maybe even still want to visit the place?

Well, it's in the same room as OJ Simpson's.

Fitting company, yes?

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