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!

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