Increase Owner Activity and Involvement

By Ed Lanza

Wow, this game is getting pretty popular. Everyday there is a new league starting up. There must be a couple hundred by now. We've got pro leagues, college leagues, stock Sierra leagues, hall of fame leagues, and I think I saw a league made up of celebrities.

But how do you know when you have a successful league or not? Low owner turnover is a very important factor. The commissioner knows he is successful when that waiting list is added onto much more frequently than when someone has to come off that list. And as a former commish, it's a great feeling when that wait list gets really large. You see, this "business" is all word of mouth. Let's say I join ABC league and it is kind of dull. One of my colleague's from XYZ league may ask me if I've heard anything about ABC league. I tell him it's dull and he doesn't sign up. Now, if ABC is the best damned league I ever saw, I tell him that and he immediately signs up on the waiting list. I would say that 70% of all owners-to-be sign up because they heard good things about the league. The other 30% sign up on a whim.

Every commissioner wants to run a successful league. However, you can't create a player database, some play design rules and get owners together and expect them to be active. Part of a commissioner's job is to make the owners want to stay. Guess what? It's just like being an office manager! So break open your organizational behavior books and polish up your problem solving skills so we can get to work!

When a league begins, it tends to take owners on a first come, first serve basis. What I am about to suggest is rarely done (in fact I don't think anyone does this). Make up an application. That's right, if you want specific types of owners, then this is the best way to go. Write up a downloadable application for your league and put it on your web page. If you want a league full of successful coaches, ask about coaching background. If you want people who have good personalities, ask them to write something. Remember businesses today look for certain types of employees and find them after reviewing applications and completing interviews. If you think you need a goofball to lighten your league up, then this is your best option.

Okay, you've filled up your league and you haven't drafted yet. Your members are getting frustrated because they want to get going and can't release any positive energy. What do you do? Put up a message board. Almost all leagues where there is heavy owner activity have a trash talk page of some sort. Now your owners are putting up posts about how they'll win the title or that their first round pick is up for trade.

In fact, anytime is a good time to put a message board. Back in the day, these were free and the best way to keep them going was to click their sponsor link every so often. Now, you have to pay for them. But cheer up, they're only $1 a month, so if you go through your couch cushions, you should be able to finance it pretty well. You can get some heated talk during the season posted there, trade announcements to the league, or some general miscellaneous posts (I once made a post where I put a bounty on a player's head). It rarely gets dull on the message board.

There are still other ways to get your owners involved with the league. A simple money system seems to work out too. Now, if you want to keep your job simple as a commish, you may want to avoid a weekly odds thing. That is just another commitment you must deal with. Instead, write up some preseason odds for people to wager on, and update them every now and then. And don't just have a bet on who wins the title. Establish some other odds, such as the rushing title winner, or even the team to suffer the worst defeat.

Additionally, allow owners to bet with one another. Have two coaches put a wager on the outcome of an upcoming game. Let them see who can score the most points on the worst team in the league. And since this is a game and not real life, take it to the extreme. Put bounties on players' heads! One hundred dollars to the team who knocks out Barry Sanders for the Detroit-Minnesota matchup that will decide who wins the tie-breaker in the NFC Central. Being the only one I know of who has done that, I can tell you that it's a lot of fun.

A league newsletter also works very well. I wrote a lot of them over the past three years and they generate a lot of interest. Now, before you appoint an editor, along with ensuring he is literate, make sure the guy REALLY wants to do it. As little as it sounds, a newsletter takes a good amount of work. Research is probably the most time consuming element of all, but sometimes it is tough even finding a lead story. Now, when I wrote a newsletter it was never only me writing. I liked to have other owners get a chance to print something about their teams. Newsletters tend to be a big hit because owners like to hear someone else talk about their team, regardless of the context of the message. It's kind of like when you were nine years old and got your name in the paper for Little League baseball. And if someone feels they aren't getting any exposure, they can simply send an article in themselves.

Heck, as a commish, appoint two or three editors to write competing newsletters! There's nothing better than multiple viewpoints on the same subject. You could even have a vote at the end of the week to determine which one was better.

Speaking of voting, I have seen some leagues use an online poll that asks various questions about the league. That is a brilliant idea to increase league activity. And don't always ask positive questions on the poll either. Throw in a few negative ones, such as "Who plays the worst pass defense in the league?"

So do you get my drift here? As a commissioner, you have to provide the means for your owners to participate. However, not every means will always be a positive one. Some leagues ask the good owners to post some of their plays to the web site to show the young coaches how they work. There are two reasons why this is not good. First, the good owners figured out how to create their good plays through their own hard work. They are not going to be very willing to give out their best plays for free. Secondly, once the play is posted, now everyone has it!!! What's the point of having unique game plans when everyone has the same set of 5-10 plays? Quite simply, play sharing is bad! There are plenty of tutorials on the web that explain how to make good plays. They don't need to be handed out.

As a substitute, you could have a weekly meeting on IRC or Powwow that discusses the art of playmaking. This is much more voluntary and doesn't give any specifics. It's best to give an owner the tools rather than finish the job for him.

Well, that's all from me. I will update this piece periodically after I have found some more ways to get owners to participate more. So have fun (that's what games are for, aren't they?).