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Fantasy Football: A Big Win For Collaboration?

Every fall a study is released lamenting the toll fantasy football takes on the U.S. economy. This year’s buzzkill report finds that office fantasy leagues are costing employers as much as $430.9 million in lost productivity every week during the National Football League season.

Most people dismiss these studies as attempts by management consulting firms to crack down on frivolity. But nobody outside of the sports blogosphere ever attempts to quantify the positives of this collaborative game.

The skills inherent in building a statistically successful team also translate to better real-world management skills. In addition, fantasy football may actually be an effective team-building, morale-boosting exercise for your office.

Here are three workplace wins compliments of your local fantasy football franchise:

Statistical Significance

Getting involved in a fantasy football is conducive to learning more about the world of statistics. Success in fantasy sports depends on understanding how fantasy stats correspond to actual player production. People who are consistently successful in their fantasy leagues are likely skilled at both forecasting player performance and understanding how those numbers translate to fantasy figures.

Consider the example of New York Times blogger extraordinaire Nate Silver. Silver has been all over the news this month for correctly predicting yet another national election with almost eerie accuracy. While Silver’s political prognostications are well known, not all of his readers are aware of his background in sabermetrics, a statistical approach to baseball analysis that measures in-game activity and makes predictions about player performance.

While writing for Baseball Prospectus, Silver developed a sabermetric-based forecasting system known as PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm). The system predicted player performance in all of the major categories used in fantasy baseball, and was thus enormously popular. SIlver then translated his experience in baseball statistical analysis to making political predictions—with enormous success.

Competitive Edge

Fantasy football is just a game, but it’s a game people play to win. Some human resources reps might express concern that such ruthless competition may foster animosity and resentment in the office. And it is true that the competitive spirit in fantasy football can spill over into other projects—but that’s a good thing!

A culture of success encourages employees to try their hardest at every endeavor. Fantasy league members who are willing to put in the time and effort to succeed at the game are usually the same people who put in the elbow grease necessary to get projects across the finish line.

In addition, the competitive aspect of fantasy football produces a sense of camaraderie.

While individual success is obviously the goal, the game is fundamentally a communal experience that encourages bonding and communication. This is especially true during the draft at the beginning of the season, during which league members take turns selecting players for their teams in real time. Although participants don’t have to be physically present, many leagues arrange to hold the draft in a boardroom or bar where everybody can show up. Unlike corporate retreats or lunch hour team-building events, fantasy football drafts are organic group exercises that employees voluntarily attend of their own initiative.

Management in Training

Each fantasy league has one member who also serves as the league commissioner. The commissioner is responsible for to setting up the league, scheduling the draft and resolving any rule disputes that may arise during the season. The pratfalls of this role are familiar to any manager: fantasy league commissioners are blamed whenever something goes wrong, but merely an afterthought when things are running smoothly. League commish is a largely thankless job, but somebody has to do it—preferably somebody with no shame who will nag members incessantly until they pay their fees. Taking on the role of commish is a good opportunity for an employee wanting to demonstrate responsibility and management skills. It’s also a good chance to network with people in different departments.

But beware: the league commish can often be the subject of controversy. Adjudicating rule disputes concerning trades or scoring is perhaps the most contentious part of the job. The rules in fantasy football vary from league to league, and are sometimes misunderstood even by veteran members. Sometimes common “interpretations” or “understanding” of rules are considerably different from the language on the books. Again, these are the sorts of problems project managers deal with all of the time.


For every study detailing fantasy football’s drag on the national economy, there’s another one showing that 40 percent of respondents believe fantasy football is a positive influence at work that adds to a sense of office camaraderie. More importantly from a management perspective, market research indicates that the actual amount of time someone actually spends on fantasy football is fairly minimal—especially compared to Facebook and YouTube distractions. Our tip: encourage office fantasy leagues. They’ll build morale and facilitate increased communication. And start Houston QB Matt Schaub this week. He should put up big numbers against an injury-depleted secondary.

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