We at FanDraft are big followers of the Reddit Fantasy Football site, and lately we've been seeing a lot of inquiries from users asking where they should host their fantasy football league. As we've spent a fair amount of time testing most of the league management services, and have good amount of experience with all types of leagues, we thought we'd take the time to share out insights.
FREE vs PAID or Your time is worth more than $6
Too often people will flock immediately to the term "FREE". The so called "free" hosting sites, be it Yahoo! or ESPN , aren't truly free. It's being paid for by advertising. Advertising in the form of email marketing. Advertising in the form of banner ads. Advertising in the form of commercials that you are forced to watch before accessing the content you truly want to see. All these things steal your attention, and more importantly your time, which is just as valuable as money.
People also often forget that with their league's comes buying power. Splitting up the cost of a paid service between several people makes the total cost of a "pay site" relatively trivial. A service that cost $70 is really just a measly $6 per person (in a 12 people league). Personally, I'd happily sacrifice a Starbucks Latte one day, in place of 5 months of a quality ad-free site.
What Your League Needs
When it comes to choosing the right league management service, costs should not be a primary factor. It should come down to your league's needs. And your needs should break down into prioritizing one of the following things:
Simplicity Will this be a league of novice owners with basic needs, without many plans for becoming a keeper league or adding a bunch of unique rules in the future.
Entertainment/engagement Will this be a league of mixed experience owners, who you need to cultivate an interest in fantasy football to helpl gel as a league.
Customization Will this be a league that is or will become a keeper or dynasty league, has a need for unique rules and scoring customization, or has plans of wanting to develop a deep history of records.
Simplicity: Yahoo! Fantasy Football
If your league is made up of a bunch of newbies to fantasy football (or football in general), and has a commissioner who isn't all that technologically savvy, simplicity is the key, then a service like Yahoo! is probably going to be your best bet. The assumption is that this league is going to be a redraft league and your rules are going to be very basic, as are your league's needs. Yahoo's Fantasy Football League Manager, with it's limited customization makes setting up and following the league fairly easy. Most importantly, it doesn't have the giant maze of content being pushed on a user that ESPN does.
Strengths: Easy to setup, clean design.
Weaknesses: Lack of customization.
Similar Alternatives: CBS Sportsline FF Commissioner
Pleasure: ESPN FF League Manager
I'm in two leagues right now, a hard core keeper league that's been going for 20+ years, and a fun-time redraft league that's going into it's 3rd season. I'll get back to the keeper league later, and explain to you how the novice league is evolving.
We started off this league, made up of 50% newbies to fantasy football (half of which was fairly new to even watching football in general). Simplicity is the key, as being the Commish I know it's up to me to troubleshoot all of these owners problems, as well as constantly educate them on the intricacies of fantasy football. The more simple it is for a person to login and set their lineup, the less time I have to spend hand-holding. But another big obstacle with a league like this, is keeping people engaged. If they aren't properly entertained, they'll never "get it". This is where ESPN gets the nod. When it comes to having the tools to engage and entertain, the experience of the FFL Toolkit just can't be beat. I put as much effort as possible into utilizing the tools such as the Press Conference and League Invite videos. And the customizable ranking "Report Cards" make for a nice weekly emailing, which keeps people chatting/bragging about games. All these things help engaging, and increase their attention and interest in the league.
We started the league off this on NFL.com, but it wasn't nearly as successful as our second season which was on ESPN. So if getting people interested in the game of fantasy football is important to your league's success, ESPN is the way to go.
Strengths: Great tools for engagement. Visually appealing.
Weaknesses: Bloated design. A maze of too much information and advertising.
Similar Alternatives: NFL.com
Blend of Simple and Customizable: Fleaflicker
Fleaflicker wins in the simple and clean design category. There is very little distraction or clutter to cause confusion there. The site is free to use and offers substantial customization options, dynasty features like taxi squads and handy one-click league import tools. Fleaflicker offers both iOS and Android apps, but if a robust native application is critical to your league, Yahoo! has the edge there.
Strengths: Easy to setup, clean design, highly customizable.
Weaknesses: No auction drafting option yet
Similar Alternatives: MyFantasyLeague
Customization & Committed Leagues: MyFantasyLeague
Now to return to discussing my hard-core league that's been going for over 20 years now. This league is intense. We mean it. It's a dynasty keeper league, with a variety of odd scoring rules, double-header games, a massive history of league records, and needless to say...a need for integration with FanDraft and other 3rd party services.
We started this league knowing that is was going to continue on for many years (if not forever). The league is always evolving, adding new rules and subtleties. Before we started using MFL, every time we added some new flair to the league, we would have to change league management services to something that could serve our needs. Finally we found MyFantasyLeague, A service that offers EVERYTHING you can imagine. And this offered us the security of knowing we won't have to change services every time we want to change/improve the league. While most (if not all) services offer support for keeper leagues, the important thing to understand that the longer your league is around, the more demanding your league will become for nuanced rules.
We at FanDraft have a deep appreciation of the MyFantasyLeague service, a knowledge of what a great and dedicated staff that runs the service, and a love for their philosophy of being technologically open. They offer a robust API to the fantasy development community that allows expandability to many other great services. Because of that, products like LeagueSafe, FootballGuys, and yes even FanDraft, can integrate with MyFantasyLeague. This is something that none of the other services offer as successfully.
Strengths: Massively customizable, great for keepers and dynasty leagues and leagues with a variety of unique rules.
Weaknesses: Not as aesthetically pleasing as other sites (attributed to ability for massive customization).
Price: $59.95-89.95 (depending on time of year purchased)
Similar Alternatives: RealTime Fantasy Sports Commissioner
The Rest of the Pack
You probably noticed that we didn't offer much information about CBS Sportsline, NFL.com, Fox Fantasy Sports, RealTime Fantasy Sports, as these sites fail in areas where the others succeed.