Part Five – The Payoff
I have a very close group of friends that I’ve known for most of my life. I couldn’t get rid of these guys if I tried. We’ve shared lockers as adolescents. We won a few football games together in high school. I’ve seen some of them get way too drunk at frat parties and shamelessly urinate all over some unsuspecting person’s futon. We spent summers raging down the Jersey shore before everyone thought of Jersey Shore whenever someone said “Jersey shore”. A couple of us even lived together for a while after college, which was simultaneously the most disastrous and glorious phenomenon I’ve ever had the privilege of paying $500 a month for.
Somewhere along the way, this special group of people became a permanent extension of my family, and I’ve been truly blessed to have them as a part of my life.
We all crossed over into our thirties recently, and our priorities have shifted away from what they were in our younger days. Nothing detrimental, just the things that tend to happen to people when…well, when they cross over into their thirties. We take our careers more seriously as they demand more from us on a day-to-day basis. Most of us are married. The ones that aren’t married will be soon and the ones that are started having kids. Plus the older you get, the longer it takes to recover from hangovers. They REALLY suck, kids.
Unfortunately, the one aspect of life that never seems to change is that there’s still just 24 hours in a day. Regardless of the responsibilities that tend to pile up, you only have a fixed amount of time to deal with them. Sometimes that forces you to make sacrifices.
So there’s not as many happy hours anymore, and getting together to watch a game or get a bite to eat takes some more effort and planning than it used to. It doesn’t happen often but, occasionally, we have to reschedule when other things come up. While we always understand our situations, we realize the days when we could walk to each other’s houses to hang out are firmly in our rearview mirror.
A few years back, my brother approached me about starting our own fantasy baseball league. We had been playing in a league where our commissioner was a cheating S.O.B. (he secretly ran several teams in the league unbeknownst to the rest of us) and figured it wouldn’t be hard to get enough people together between the two of us. He asked some of his friends, I asked mine, we asked a couple of our relatives, and just like that, our first fantasy sports league was founded.
What we didn’t realize at the time was we had started a vehicle to stay in touch with those that matter most to us.
Not a day goes by where my friends don’t make message board posts about their teams or text me to talk about a ridiculous trade offer they got. We see my brother interact with his friends, and that brings us back to when we were their age. It’s amazing how similar our groups are; in fact, I often hear how they all independently talk to each other about topics not necessarily relating to league matters. Even my dad’s gotten in on the action, debating my uncles simply for the sake of stirring the pot.
Fantasy sports are a very unique activity. You can ask a thousand people what it means to them and they’ll give you a thousand completely different answers. As a fantasy commissioner, I’ve come to realize that, despite the diversity of the responses you’ll receive to the previous question, there’s one simple thing you can do to make sure your leagues are successful.
Make them fun.
My brother and I don’t just run a fantasy sports league. We created a year-round entertainment experience for the people we care about. Our turnover is minimal, and the buzz around the start of each season is immeasurable. They keep coming back because it’s a good time, and once they’re in, they stay invested because of the people and the bonds they’ve formed through it. Even though I may want to lock all these people in a school bus and push them off a cliff sometimes, I always try to remember that this is why I continue to torture myself.
As my final advice to you, the aspiring fantasy commissioner, here are a couple of ideas to inject a little bit of distinction and amusement into your leagues.
1. Have a live draft.
Set a date. Pick a venue. Get some food together. I mean, those are pretty much all the major points to hit if you want to start off any season on the right note. Fantasy sports and food have a great way of building good will among a group of people. I’ve actually seen some leagues where the lower you finish in the standings the previous year, the larger your contribution to the draft day menu becomes. That way, if you finish in first, you may only have to bring a bag of chips, but if you come in last, you’re shelling out for everyone’s pizza.
Make sure your Wi-Fi connection is strong enough to service all members of your league. Nothing can tank a draft quicker than a lag time between uploading picks. Also, if one or two of the league’s members don’t live close to where the draft is being held, try and Skype them in. If your league is spread out across multiple areas, have a rotating draft that travels to different places every year.
Finally, for those of you old enough to indulge in alcoholic beverages, don’t go too crazy with them during the draft. Just like the host of a party, it’s your job to make sure everything runs smoothly and that’s not easy to do if you’re intoxicated. Besides, you don’t want to black out and realize you took Coco Crisp in the fourth round because you liked saying his name, do you? Yes, I’ve seen this happen before.
2. Everyone is fair game – including yourself.
At the start of every fantasy season, I prepare a short video montage that gets premiered at our draft. It contains Photoshopped images of all the league’s members in some less than flattering positions. I’ve placed them into bad movie posters, the covers of 80’s hair band albums, and masquerading as Disney princesses.
You know whose picture always gets the biggest laugh? Mine.
I’ve taken pictures of myself using the toilet, lying in bed at three in the morning surrounded by sacks of White Castle burgers, making out with several unattractive females, and sitting completely naked in my favorite armchair with one of our league’s trophy covering my private areas. If any of these pictures ever were leaked, my aspirations of running for political office would be destroyed.
Part of the fun of fantasy sports is being able to bust people’s chops once in a while. Make sure it’s spread out evenly and everyone’s in on the joke, but otherwise, the league is your audience. Keep them guessing then give them something that doesn’t make them want to change the channel.
3. Plan a mid-season gathering.
Every year during the last weekend in June, my baseball league descends upon tiny, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant and completely takes it over. They always stick us in the back of the restaurant where their only large table is, probably hoping to contain our unruliness while accommodating our needs. Fat chance of that. For no less than three hours, we eat and drink way too much, our conversations get way too loud, and, even though we make sure to tip them extremely well for their efforts, they always look flat out exhausted when we leave. It’s a ridiculously awesome time.
Fantasy seasons can be incredibly long sometimes, and it’s important to break up the monotony. A mid-season gathering gives owners a venue to blow off some steam and catch up with everyone in person. I’ve seen leagues do weekend retreats to local casinos or extravagant parties like yacht tours of the Hudson River, but there’s nothing wrong with a simple ping pong tournament in someone’s basement either. The point is to give them another opportunity to relive the camaraderie they got from the draft.
4. Put your stamp on it.
Fantasy leagues are by no means created equal. It’s the individuals that make up the league that give it a distinction. Therefore, it’s up to you guys to determine what makes the next great fantasy league so special.
On draft day in my leagues, I dress up in a suit with a t-shirt that says “COMMISH” on the front of it, and make everyone submit their first round pick in an envelope that I read out loud behind a podium. Since my football league is a collection of guys that went to the same high school (albeit at different times), our divisions are named after the different football coaches we played under. Our baseball league’s trophy contains an actual baseball signed by Darryl Hamilton that gets awarded to each year’s champion (don’t ask, it’s a long story). This is where, as a commissioner, you can make the biggest impact on the league you want to create.
Thanks for letting me share with you all the lessons and experiences that fantasy sports have given me. I’d like to thank BigTroph.com for giving me this space to (hopefully) amuse you with my wit and anecdotes, and I’d also like to thank all the different fantasy commissioners I’ve competed with over the years, all of whom have enabled me to offer a perspective on this amazing pastime.
Finally, I’d like to give a very special thanks to the Jersey League of Men. It feels strange to say this, but at times, they’ve given me a purpose both on and off the websites that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I sincerely appreciate every memory we’ve shared, and I look forward to ending Lubrano’s bid for the threepeat this summer.
Good luck to everyone in your respective leagues, and for the love of everything holy, please remember to set your lineups! Commissioners hate it when you don’t.
Jason J. Consoli is the Director of Business Development for Fantasy 6th Man, an online service that provides low-cost solutions to fantasy leagues needing in-season replacement owners. Check out www.fantasy6thman.com for more details regarding their services and follow them on Twitter at @fantasy6thman for promotions and discounts on products.