How to Incentivize Participation in Your Fantasy League (Fantasy Football)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
May 23, 2019

Dynasty commissioners can incentivize shallow leagues to stay active by awarding the top rookie picks to the best teams

How do fantasy commissioners keep their leagues active all season? Are there any tools or strategies to keep participation up all throughout the season? While there is no foolproof way to ensure that team owners stay engaged, there are some ways to incentivize participation. We will take a look at some money league specific options, and also take a look at some options that can be utilized in free leagues as well as cash leagues.

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Money

Non-monetary league prizes
In non-high stakes leagues, keepsakes like championship trophies and rings are often very appealing to prospective owners. In one league I run, the participants are far more interested in the championship belt than they are in the actual pot.

Weekly pot
A weekly pot is an astute way to keep all managers participating all year long. A portion of the league buy-in is split between regular season weeks and creates the weekly pot, or prize pot. You can award cash, or you can award a specific prize.

Draft location out of town
Holding your annual draft party out of town is a sure way to raise some interest in your league. Knowing your draft room is important here as you do not want to exclude participants due to financial or familial constraints. Perhaps Vegas is not feasible, but what about somewhere in the state, or even less than an hour drive away.

Loser buys dinner for entire league
This is a crucial tool I have used to both get together with the league at the end of a fun season and ensure the teams that may find themselves at the bottom of the standings have something to play for. These can get a little excessive at times, so we do offer a $40 per head bailout fee and make the inclusion a side bet where not everyone is forced to participate.

Monetary inactive penalties
Penalizing owners’ physical cash for having an inactive lineup is critical in redraft leagues. I do not condone forcing dynasty owners to drop a potential keeper for a one-week bye filler, but in redraft formats, fielding a complete lineup is crucial in ensuring the integrity of the league and the overall standings.

Free

Pick slot dock inactive penalties
One strategy I have used in my dynasty leagues to curtail inactivity and outright tanking is to implement a penalty for an inactive lineup. I give teams a pass during bye weeks, as it makes no sense to drop a keeper just to roster a fill-in for a bye. One week of inactivity means the team that was going to be awarded the first overall pick, now gets second overall. Three weeks of inactivity makes it fourth overall and so on.

Free pick for league champ end of first or second
Another tool to use in free dynasty leagues is to award a rookie draft pick to the league champion. This helps curtail teams from actively throwing the playoffs or finals to receive a higher draft pick. It is most effective at the end of the first round, however, a pick at the end of the second round is often preferred for competitive balance reasons.

Rivalry weeks
Setting up a rivalry week or weeks is a great tool to get your league managers more invested. Generally, you use this week to pit past champions against each other, or perhaps even a finals rematch. You can put friends against other good friends or family, or pit fantasy foes against each other in the other matchups.

Inactive FAAB penalties
One strong way to keep your team owners setting their lineups in free leagues is to penalize inactive teams by reducing their FAAB budget. Five percent is great for a first offense, but consider bumping this to 7.5 or 10 percent for repeat offenders. This is an effective route to ensure that there are tangible penalties even in free redraft leagues.

Sponsor champ prize
This suggestion, of course, comes down to your own personal budget and access to disposable income. Sponsoring a league prize for your free league is one way to keep your league engaged. If you are already ordering a belt, trophy, or ring for your money leagues, consider perhaps tacking on an inexpensive ring to the order. There are also clothing options that are relatively inexpensive.

Lottery instead of reverse of standings rookie draft
One way to keep your league managers from giving up and/or tanking for a high pick is to implement a lottery. Going the traditional reverse of standings route for rookie or keeper drafts is a sure way to have at least one owner tank for next year’s top pick. A straight lottery or even a weighted lottery is recommended to help curtail outright tanks. Combining this with draft slot inactive penalties helps to ensure the integrity of your league. An alternative suggestion is to award picks based on records, instead of the inverse. This, however, can lead to competitive balance issues, especially in deeper leagues. 

League power rankings (use humor)
One way to keep your team owners engaged is to create a league power ranking. This should be humorous and relevant. Of course, this option is not for everyone. Time and the wherewithal to actually expend the time, creativity, and energy needed to create power rankings is not something every league commissioner will be on board with. The rationale for each ranking can be kept to one or two sentences to keep it simple.

Custom team graphics
You would be surprised how much a little thing like custom team graphics will engage your team owners. To create the most unique and in-depth graphics, this option is dependent on someone in the league having Photoshop prowess and the time to create these graphics. There are people you can pay to do this for you, but this may not be an option for owners who chose to join a free league. However, there are also a number of websites that allow different levels of customization when creating your own team logos. If this is the case, it is recommended you seek out free logo makers.

Group chat
Keeping team managers engaged via an external group chat is recommended. There are tons of apps you can use that can serve this purpose. I have been in leagues that have used Google Chat, Slack, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Telegram, Line, Kik, and WeChat. There really is no right answer, as this comes down to personal preference and perhaps the chat provider already most popular among your members. This is a great communication tool and also helps league managers to get to know one another outside of the league provider app or website.

Friendly Trash Talk
Friendly and clean trash talk is one way to keep your owners engaged. Keeping it clean and setting boundaries is imperative because emotions can flare. Remember most managers are participating in more than one league, so activity outside of trade talks can help your league become their ‘main’ league, even if it is a free league. Consider implementing FAAB penalties for any managers who cross the proverbial line you have drawn between personal and play. Race, gender, religion, and families should be off limits, but most everything else should be fair game.

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Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his profile and follow him @FantasyContext.

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