Grading Commissioner Platforms

One of the first critical decisions you will make when starting a fantasy league is where to host your league.

Too often we flock to “cheap and easily”, only to figure out a few years down the line that it won’t meet our league’s needs. One of the biggest pains a league can endure is changing commissioner platforms. The change will be hard on your owners, as there will be a learning curve to figuring out the new interface. Even worse, there is a huge hurdle in trying to keep your league history in tact during a transition. If you can gage how your league may evolve, if will help you pick the right platform ahead of time and prevent this negative experience.

FREE vs PAID: Your time is worth money

Too often people will immediately flock to the offer of "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 of these things steal your attention, and more importantly your time, which is equally or more valuable than your money.

Commissioners also often forget that leagues provide buying power. Splitting up the cost of a paid service between several owners 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 a year of quality, ad-free service.

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:

  1. Simplicity (Beginners) 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.

  2. Entertainment/Engagement (Novice to Advanced) Will this be a league made up of owners with mixed experience levels, who need to slowly cultivate an interest in fantasy football before gelling as a solid league.

  3. Flexibility for Evolving Rules (Hard Core) 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.

If you this is going to be a recreational league, filled with co-workers or significant others, it may not ever need more than the basics. However, if you think your league will eventually become very granular about rosters and scoring, or start incorporating keepers or dynasty formats, plan ahead of time by picking the right platform.

Below is a grading system for each platform to help you pick one that will best suit your needs.
Nearly all of these sites offer free trials, so you can always dig in for yourself to get a feel of the abilities and overall experience.

Grading Commissioner Platforms
Site Ease of Use Good for keeper/dynasty Rule Customization Flexibility Mobile Experience News and Advice Price
CBS Sportsline B B B C A $149-179
Fleaflicker C A- A C C FREE
MyFantasyLeague D A+ A+ D A $69.95-89.95
Sleeper D C C A A FREE
Yahoo! A- C B A- B FREE

CBS Sportsline: Best for Advanced Users
Probably our least favorite of the bunch. It offers less rule customization/flexibility and support for keeper leagues, but at twice the price of MyFantasyLeague. While it’s stronger in those areas than the free sites, it comes at a big cost. The one benefit over MyFantasyLeague is in the “Ease of Use” (a better UI and mobile experience), but you really have to judge whether those aspects are worth the added price (and less customization).

ESPN: Best of beginners
This is the easiest of the platforms. The interface is easy to pick up. The mobile platform can be utilized by the most novice of users. It offers a vast amount of news and advice that is easily accessible. It’s really the best of the bunch for the recreational league. Where the service falters is in its flexibility, which is extremely limited. If you visualize your league ever evolving out of more than “recreation”, it may not be a good bet.

Fleaflicker: Best free service for mix of users, with flexibility to expand the complexity.
If you want to run (or eventually run) a keeper or dynasty league, but are unwilling to pay, this would be your best bet. It isn’t as robust in customization as the paid leagues, and lacking in the UI and News offered by many free sites , but it can get the job done (for free) if you want fine-grained scoring and roster controls, and serious control over dynasty and keeper leagues.

MyFantasyLeague: Best for the Hardcore leagues
Massively customizable. More so than any of the other services. It’s great for keepers and dynasty leagues, and/or leagues with a variety of unique rules. If you can think of a rule, scoring method, or just about any sort of wacky addition to your league…it’s likely MyFantasyLeague can support it. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as other sites, but this is all attributed to ability for total customization to the platform itself. The mobile aspect also leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s a trade-off for the kind of powerful customization you get elsewhere in the platform.

Sleeper: Best for savvy and advanced owners
The new kid on the block has an intriguing free offering. They provide an interesting mix of solid news and alerts that are integrated into the league management platform. They don’t offer the granular customization of Fleaflicker or the paid sites, but offer a more modern interface. They are very new and constantly offering new features and improvements, but also being new (and small) limits how fast these additions get developed. Also being new, it adds a questionable risk to the longevity of the service (it’s essentially a start-up company). If your owners aren’t tech savvy, we probably wouldn’t recommend it. But if they are on top of their game, and you feel like experimenting, it may be worth a gander.

Yahoo! Best for beginners
Very similar to an option as ESPN, Yahoo is a great starter commissioner platform. ESPN is a marginally better interface, but that may all be personal preference. It does offer better scoring controls and customization for dynasty/keeper leagues than ESPN, which makes it a better long term play if you think your league may ever consider those options.