Friday, August 12, 2011

Fantasy Football Web Host: Pay to Play or Play for Free?

My Fallen Friend
Most of the (okay all) fantasy football leagues that I play in are of the pay to play variety. I wouldn't call the stakes astronomical, but I am in leagues that cost anywhere from $50-$110 to enter. I have started seasons already $500 in the hole just from entry fees. The thing about the entry fee is that its all relative. If you play in a cheap league you win cheap prizes. If you play in an expensive league you can win expensive prizes. 

With money at stake, it sometimes shocks me how blasé a commissioner can be when choosing the website for the league. I always ask the commissioner why he has chosen the site and nine times out of ten the answer is something like this, "Well, it was free and easy to set up so what the fuck's difference? Go eat a chicken wing and stop being a pain in the ass." Occasionally a commissioner will say that the league has run on specific site for a long time and the website preserves the leagues history. That is maybe the best reason for a league to stay on an otherwise terrible website. 

For years, I wouldn't be in a league that didn't use the software of Statsworld. Statsworld was a small company in Cincinnati way ahead of their time. Way back in 1994  (believe it or not that was 17-years ago), Statsworld had a desktop version of their software that made running leagues much easier than my previous method. Okay, ill tell, that method was walking my ass to the corner store for a slushy and the Monday edition of the USA Today. Then I went home and had to go through each box score to determine the winners in my league. I would of course have to repeat the process on Tuesday so I could track the Monday Night Football game and then later in the season the league would play on Saturday and I would have to use the Buffalo News to get those box scores. 

As Statsworld evolved, so did I. At some point the desktop version gave way to an online version and dial up internet gave way to high speed internet and fantasy football was changed forever. I never needed to buy another slushy again. (I just couldn't write newspaper. I love the newspaper, and I don't want to be responsible for it being obsolete)

About three years ago, my worst nightmare came true. My dog had cancer  Statsworld had been sold to some bullies that called themselves MyFantasyLeague.Com. They promised to be everything that Statsworld was and more. I knew it couldn't be possible. I didn't want to believe it was possible. I turned my back on MyFantasyLeague.Com so fast that I drafted Sam Bradford as my second QB in my first draft of the 2008 season. 

Since the death of Statsworld, the same question has hung over the head of each league I have ever started or continued to be the commissioner of; What website should I host this league on? 

Let's break down the choices (One more thing, It's no longer good enough to be a quality website. In todays world of smartphones and tablet computers your website better have an app for iPhone and Android users. If you don't, I'm not interested in you. Also, I didn't write much about live scoring because everyone does it and everyone sees, to do it just fine.)

ESPN: The World Wide leader in sports has made their site almost unbeatable. 

First, if you have an auction league and you can't have a live draft (meaning your draft needs to be had with members behind computers in various corners of the country or world) ESPN IS BY FAR THE BEST SITE FOR YOUR LEAGUE. Their auction software is second to none and everything is free. They have an app that is also free that works for iOS and Android. They do not have a native iPad app but that feature could be added at any time. Also, there are third party apps such as Fantasy Football Monster '11 HD that will allow you to manage your ESPN league team on the iPad. 

If your league is a snake draft ESPN is still very appealing. They have plenty of content right on their site including podcasts, rankings, projections, and all kinds of other bells and whistles to help their game be the most appealing. Again, they have a free app, free drafts, a mock draft center for practice, and an onsite injury expert. They also have a nicely packaged drat kit that can be easily printed out and be your main companion at your draft. With magazines taking a huge hit due to the lockout, more of us are going to be turning to online cheat sheets. ESPN has this covered and covered well with opinions from multiple personalities and their consensus choices. 

So ESPN is a no brainer right? If all of the above is free, why in the world would I use any other website? Well, a few reasons. First, the standard game that ESPN plays is nothing close to the fantasy football I have ever played. Some enjoy the standard ESPN game, but if I were to run a league on ESPN it would be a custom league and not a standard. ESPN claims to fully customizable but they really aren't. Especially tricky is adding bonus points for yards in a game or yards on a play. ESPN is very limited in their choices. Another drawback to ESPN is that they only allow so many drafts on a given day or time. Basically, if you snooze you loose. If you think ESPN is best for you (and it might be) then you should schedule your draft as soon as you can so that you will have access to the site on the date and time that you want. 

Overall: ESPN is far and away the best FREE website. If you want to play a standard game of fantasy football then there is no better place on the internet. 

Sample League:

MyFantasyLeague.COM: This site once broke my heart, but its impossible to ignore all of possibilities. 

ESPN is the best free site. I think that MyFantasyLeague (MFL) is the best pay site. This site it jam packed with options, that even after two seasons of running games on it, I don't think I have discovered everything. MFL is packed with stats and ways to organize those stats. Your league is truly customizable on MFL. ESPN claims to be fully customizable but like I said before that is only true to an extent. On MFL, you can set scoring options for anything you can think of. Last year, my league had a rule that awarded a player .5 point for having his ass tapped. We thought it would be hard to track, but MFL was there for us. 

MFL is in the strange position of having almost too many features. Starting a league on MFL from scratch can seem like a choir that was made for a United States President not a fantasy football commissioner. The site is complicated. The good news is that MFL has a great staff and they are always available to help you solve whatever problem you might have. 

My favorite feature of MFL is the infinite amount of ways you can decorate the league home page. You can post polls, assign each team a logo, give the league a logo, keep track of money, transactions and standings without ever making a click. MFL also has an app that works of the iPhone, iPad, and Android. 

Overall: MFL is the perfect alternative for the complicated league. A complicated league needs complicated options and ESPN isn't quite built for that. MFL will cost you, but it isn't as expensive as you might think. MFL will offer a switching league the same price as their former pay site or 50% off. The basic price is $89.95 but if you run multiple leagues the second league receives a $10 discount. If I were you, I would shoot an email to and make a deal. 

Sample League:

Some Other Free Sites:

If ESPN doesn't make your sister giggle there are some other free options out there. 

NFL.COM has been stepping up their game the past few seasons. NFL.COM can offer you a free game with a basic list of customizations. They have recently added an iPhone app and a secondary app that can be used as an in draft tool. The site while customizable, like ESPN, is only customizable to their specifications. Here is an example. NFL's standard game does not award bonus points for rushing totals. I am in a league that awards points when a runner advances past 125 yards. That rule wouldn't be possible on NFL.COM. You could however award points for gaining 100-199 or/and 200plus. In this case you either need to adjust your rule or pick another site. It's a very little thing, but when there are so many options we have no choice but to split hairs. 

Overall: In a year or two we might all be playing fantasy football on NFL.COM, but for now I am going to give them some more time to develop. 

Yahoo.Com is probably the second best free site out there. Yahoo is a free site that claims to be fully customizable. What I like about Yahoo is that this season they have added scoring flexibility to their already FULLY customizable game that they didn't offer last season. That shows me that they are listening to the needs of their players and adjusting accordingly. This also tells me that like ESPN and NFL they are only fully customizable to a point.

Yahoo also takes great pride in their mobile apps. They have an iPad and Android app with the promise that iPad support is coming soon. There are also many third party apps that will assist you with Yahoo leagues. 

This season Yahoo is offering 2 premium add-ons to enhance their game. For $9.99, you can puchase a scouting report that is loaded with rankings, team analysis, important news items, injury updates and more. According to Yahoo, this comprehensive weekly newsletter is the most complete and up-to-date source of information you can find anywhere. Also, for $14.99 you can purchase the Yahoo! Trade Review. If a trade protest is made, members of the Yahoo! Sports staff will review the trade. If the trade in question appears to be overly biased or unfair towards one team, the trade will be overturned. Trade Review is only available for purchase by a league's commissioner. That seems like a cool little feature, but it is grossly over priced. How often in your league is a trade made that is so unfair the members of the league can't sort it out themselves? Save your $15 bucks and create a committee in the league that does the same thing.

Overall: Yahoo is a solid alternative to ESPN.  

Some other Pay Sites: 

CBS Sports is a website that I can honestly say I have never had the chance to use for a whole season. It has always seemed to be too rich for my blood. The CBS Commissioner game is $159.95. For that price, CBS better send a couple of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders to my draft to work the room and entertain my buddies. I will tip my cap to CBS for full app support for iPhone, iPad and Android. 

One awesome thing about CBS Sports is they offer support for people who want to play in leagues that cost big money. An individual can join a league for $499 and enter a prize pool worth $3,500. 

CBS also has a free game on their site for the casual gamer. 

Overall: I would be interested in trying CBS out sometime. I admit that I don't know enough about it to strongly recommend or strongly disapprove. They seem to offer a game for everyone, have app support, and easily customizable UI.  If you use, or have used CBS in the past send me an email and let me know what you think. I will post your opinion in a future column.  

Fanball: I mention Fanball because it went the way of the dodo this past offseason. I have been in a few Fanball leagues in the past, and I never embraced the site or enjoyed it that much. It seemed like a cheap version of my beloved Statsworld and for some reason their live scoring never seemed to work all that great on Sunday. I don't think they had the servers to handle it. 

Fanball has died and gone to the place of the dodo. 

Today, if you go to Fanball's website you are redirected to something called, CDM Sports. CDM is new to me and this year isn't going to be the year that I will try it.

Overall: There are too many other options for me to be sticking my nose in here. I am glad fanball and their awful live scoring and lack of any kind of functional app has disappeared. Fanball was the kind of partner that would say one thing and then do another. For example, the commissioner of the league that last year used Fanball, called them before our draft to see if they would be releasing an iPhone app. The guy on the phone said it would be released the day before the NFL Kickoff and we are still waiting to this day. He promised, made sure we drafted and were to the point of no return, and then broke the promise. 

I am sure I have left out a few fantastic sites that offer free or pay games that you like very much. Let me know about what I missed and why I should consider running my league there. I'm anxious to hear from you in the comments or by emailing me at

Fantasy Site Power Rankings 

1. Statsworld (always and forever)

2. My Fantasy League
4. Yahoo
5. CBS (I want to know more)
6. NFL

I might be back later with ten more things spotted in the second night of the NFL Pre-Season. In the meantime, say goodnight sweet Bella. 

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