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Obviously, a few perks come with being an NFL pool commissioner.
A certain air of dignity. 🧐
But, as the late great Uncle Ben from Spider-Man once said: With such great poolwer, comes great respoolsibility. (We’re paraphrasing).
Put another way…
The success of your pool hinges completely and utterly on the honesty, integrity, charm, and good looks of you, its commissioner. If you’ve got none of those things, well friend, you’re sure to wash out faster than you can say “NFL Quarterback Ryan Leaf.” But seriously, that’s what we’re here to help you learn today.
We want to help you avoid the possibility that you’ll have zero people in your pool.
So… how do you create something worth playing, and avoid feeling like a loser with no friends?
How do you run a tight ship, but also give folks the latitude to enjoy themselves as much as possible?
We reached out to some of the foremost experts in the space: our own longtime, very successful commissioners. We spoke to grandpas who started their pools 18 years ago and now have 500 members in them; workers who now run pools for their entire company; buddies who had friends of friends join and that momentum ballooned into the thousands of members.
We’ve got just the info you need.
Below, we’ve compiled some of the best advice we’ve gotten over the years we’ve run RunYourPool.
Choose your format wisely
Keep in mind that some people are your classic football chess players — they know more than how the pieces move, they can think long-game, balancing Bye Weeks and injury reports like some sort of Moneyball-type NFL Bobby Fischer.
Other folks are more like NFL pool Go Fish players.
They know the basic rules… uh… sorta. They may not be able to tell you who the RB1 for the Chiefs is this year, but they can yell Touchdown and eat nachos. (And there’s nothing wrong with that.)
Some pools — like Fantasy Lineups — are more involved than others. And in that way, they require more football savvy and strategic know-how. Just like chess, a more involved game type can make for a satisfying result. There’s nothing like battling it out with other football geniuses like yourself and barely escaping with a W.
But a pool can also turn into a pretty damned boring event if you’ve got a really high Football IQ and you invite a bunch of people who are a few Dan Marino’s short of a 90s Dolphins Offense, if you catch my drift.
So, be sure to select a football pool that matches the skill level of the folks you invite. We tend to find that big parties have a lot more fun with Survivor Pools and Pick’em Pools, because they offer folks with varying skill levels a chance to win (and you’d be surprised what kind of power Beginner’s Luck holds, too).
Do a few minutes of reading (yes, Really)
After you’ve picked your ideal format, you’ll actually need to do a little research to make sure you understand how the season ahead is going to go.
After all, when somebody in, say, your survivor pool has a question — or, even more likely, a complaint — you’ll no doubt be the first person they come to whining, tears running down their pink, chubby cheeks.
It also helps to know the ins and outs of the pool type you pick so you can pitch it to your prospective pool members. (The more the merrier!) Thankfully, every kind of pool on RunYourPool has a short-and-sweet description on this page here.
We can’t stress enough how 10 minutes at the beginning of the season can lead to fewer headaches, heartaches, and even cases of acid reflux.
Be an Active Communicator
Set the rules straight in an opening post on your message board and in chat. What are the rules for cancellations? What are the rules for tiebreakers? Obviously, we will facilitate what we can, but if you have an off-site tiebreaker that involves American Gladiator-style combat, we can’t help you (we can only encourage you to send pictures).
It’s important to let your members know what the most important dates are: When are your first round of picks due? When are picks due each week thereafter Not everybody will be doing the reading that you will do, so unlike us, keep it as succinct as possible.
Invite Your People Personally
Here’s a sobering fact for you: NFL pools with fewer than eight members are nearly 80% likely not to finish the season. Doesn’t matter if it’s something easy like squares or more challenging like Credits Pools. The smaller the pool, the more likely it is that it won’t survive the season.
You need people.
How to get them? Should you just write a half-cocked, five-word invite and blast that puppy out to as many people as possible?
Please, please don’t do that!
An out-of-context text or email is doomed to fail. No matter how tight you might be with your buddies, if you don’t take the extra second to ask, “Hey, do you wanna join my X pool?” your invite will land flat. People like to feel special, so give them that extra oomph and you’ll see far better results.
Personal example: Last March Madness I sent my loving family — a huge Italian family of more than 50 people, who know I do this for a living — an invite to our own Bracket Pool. Zero people joined, including my own wife. And my mother. When I asked them why they didn’t click and join, many of them said either, “Eh, I was getting around to it and then I didn’t.” or “Oh, that was meant for me? You haven’t texted me in a year and it seemed like spam.” Which, I mean, fair point, Mom.
Just kidding. (But not really.)
Set up a biggest loser ‘prize’
Here’s a crash course in human psychology: People don’t like pain.
Given your own dedication to running a good clean NFL pool, you’d probably think that the people you invite are going to avoid being the worst loser of all the losers. But, something to be wary of right from the get-go: when people in your pool start realizing they aren’t going to win (usually happens around week 6 or 7), they start giving up. After a few losses, eventually, the motivation just won’t be there. It happens time and again.
You’d be surprised how quickly the will to compete deflates after a few wrong picks. They stop posting their pick’em entries, they stop playing survivor pools altogether. Many stop talking trash in the chat. Even more become remarkably silent and mopey, like Jay Cutler in a bearskin robe. To combat this, at the start of the year, we suggest that every commissioner outline something that’ll happen to the person who is at the bottom of the pack at the end of the seaso). Usually, this “prize” can be something moderately embarrassing, like making the member hold a sign up in the parking lot after work that says “I am terrible at football games” or just making them wear a “I’M A HUGE LOSER” T-shirt.
Don’t give advice
For many reasons, including what we just wrote above, you may at some point be tempted to coach those of your pool who are struggling.
Have a soft spot in your heart for the 19-year-old kid from Detroit who just started in the mail room? You may want to tell him picking the Lions over the Niners in a suicide pool in Week 1 is suicide unto itself. You may want to help your 14-year-old niece from Marlborough, Mass. understand that the Patriots aren’t the powerhouse they’ve been her entire life. But, in the interest of fairness, in the position of power you now sit, we suggest resisting the urge to counsel others.
First: Nobody likes a dealer who tells you when to stand and when to hit. Second: when you’re wrong, they’ll blame you. And third, it’s really in the interest of your members to spread their baby bird wings and soar. So instead of giving outright advice, we suggest pointing to some data. We have pick’em pool data here and survivor pool data here). We can’t say that the hivemind always chooses correctly, but a little data can definitely help to nudge your folks in the right direction.
Talk trash often and vigorously
As a commissioner, it’s likely you’ll serve as the social glue that holds your pool community together. Most of the time, people in your group will know each other through you. While that can lead to some initial awkwardness, the key to breaking the ice and forging some really strong ties between otherwise unrelated folks is right there in front of you:
Talk trash at them. Talk trash often and vigorously.
We’ve found that the more active the message board, the more satisfied pool members tend to be by season’s end. Talking a little trash to your pool — especially if they all don’t know each other — can put them at ease, and put the focus, albeit briefly, on you. Below, we’ve included some subjects that you can talk about should you need some inspiration:
- Their favorite football team isn’t as good as your favorite football team.
- They don’t pick football pools very well and will most likely be the Biggest Loser at the end of the season.
- They don’t smell very nice.
- Their momma has bad breath.
- Their momma is ugly.
- Their momma doesn’t smell very nice, either.
You get the picture. Have fun with it. Go after their mommas.
Make sure you include the right people — all of them
At the end of the day, people hate being left out. Got a spouse? Invite them! Got a boss? It may be the only time you’ll be able to be their superior. Making sure you include all the right people at the onset of your pool will reduce headaches considerably after the season starts.
Ultimately, when push comes to shove, we’ve found that the commissioners who actually care enough to read an article like this — like you are right now — tend to be the kind of people that other folks keep coming back to, year after year.
And that’s really when football pools start being fun. When you have a community that messages you a few weeks before the season starts, asking, excitedly, “You ready to do it again this year, Commish?!”
Yeah, that’s the good stuff.
Now get out there and give ‘em hell.