Moving the Chains: Taking Strategy Pointers from the World of Fantasy Football

By: Richard Berger

At HighPoint, we think about team building all the time.

For more than 30 million fantasy football players around the world, it’s more of a seasonal challenge. As summer winds down, friends gather in living rooms, bars and video chatrooms to make selections for the upcoming season.

While the pre-season research and in-game variables can reach blinding complexity, the essential premise is very simple. Most leagues hold a traditional draft, just like in real life with most professional sports. Fantasy football players take turns selecting real professional players, often using recommendations and rankings from well-known sites like ESPN and Yahoo.

Other leagues hold a draft auction, where each player is allotted an equal amount of money to “spend” on a football team roster, and a traditional auction is held. Real professional players are called out, and highest bidder wins that player, and you move on to the next one and so on.

In both instances you are “allocating capital” – whether fantasy dollars or high draft picks, according to your own predictions about the season to come. The games begin, the players play and points are allotted based on touchdowns, interceptions, yards, and more.

Should spend a fortune on a particular running back, thus limiting your ability to get other good players later? Should you invest your first round pick on a top quarterback, even though an almost as good one might be a better investment in a later round?

It depends on whether or not you think NFL offenses will feature them in scoring situations. Does it even matter which kicker you pick? You should probably measure the difference between best and worst in the league.

These are difficult choices that require research, patience, sound judgment and a little bit of luck. Here are a few quick lessons corporate team builders can take from fantasy football:

  • Focus on future needs, not past performance. Too many teams are constructed to look good (and safe) on paper. Legendary quarterback Peyton Manning was a fantasy no-brainer right up until he wasn’t. Savvy fantasy owners looked at his health and the direction of the league and knew when it was time to move on.
  • Plan for outcomes, not activity. Winning at fantasy requires points. Inexperienced owners often confuse points with highlights, flashy plays that make the crowd roar and earn endorsement deals. They overspend on fame while winners draft accurate kickers, tall tight ends and other guaranteed point accumulators.
  • Every season is full of surprises. Spending every last penny before the season begins is fine…assuming none of your players ever gets injured. And the one thing everyone knows about football is that people get hurt. Winning fantasy teams require late free agent additions, in-season trades and a proactive approach to the season that is instead of the season you predicted.

Fantasy football’s runaway popularity – and the massive gambling activity it attracts – are borne from the endless combinations and possibilities it offers. After all, there is no such thing as fantasy boxing or tennis. Two competitors meet, one is victorious and the result hinges on individual performance. A football team, on the other hand, is an interconnected web of capabilities, flaws and potential. It’s a puzzle. At Highpoint, we think about that puzzle in the corporate context all the time and seek inspiration wherever we can find it.

And yes – I wasted a pick on Le’Veon Bell, whiffed on Kareem Hunt and currently occupy 6th place in my league. The struggle is real.