One of the important things a fantasy commissioner gets to do when setting up a fantasy football league is building the prize payout structure. The payout structure has two parts: The categories that will be awarded and the payout amount for each category.
In this post, we’ll review the payout category options and how to select the right ones for your league. How to assign payout amounts to each category is covered in the next post.
You should finalize the payout structure before the official league invites go out because it could affect a player’s draft and game strategy, maybe even their decision to join the league or not. If you already sent the invites, then make sure the payout structure is finished well before the draft.
What Makes a Good Fantasy Payout Structure?
Part of the fun of fantasy football is setting up your league and team the way you want. So a good payout structure is one that works for you and your league. It could be a basic first through third place winners only to full on participation trophy mode where everyone gets a prize. It’s up to you.
Here are some guidelines to help your decision making…
1. Keep it simple and easy. There’s a limited prize pool to pay out so don’t go overboard with the number of prize categories. You want to keep it interesting and rewarding for the winners. Too many categories will dilute the prize pool.
You might find that you’ll want to drop a payout category to simplify things. That’s cool as long as you haven’t officially published them to the league yet. You can always add it back next season if you want.
2. Consider what parts of the game you want to incentivize. Do you want to only reward the dominant teams? Do you want a way to motivate teams that are out of playoff contention to keep fighting? Will regular season performance be rewarded?
3. Don’t change the payout structure after the season has started. That would be a major commissioner mistake that could cause friction in the league.
Now let’s explore payout options so you can decide what combination of categories to use for your league.
Standard Payout Structure Categories
Nearly every league that I’ve seen uses these and most players are familiar with them. Even so, there’s no law that says you have to use them.
First, Second & Third Place (Post Season) – This is the most common basic payout category in fantasy football. It’s probably how your father and grandfather won money playing fantasy football. Prizes go to the top 3 finishers after playoffs and the league championship have been played.
Most Regular Season Points – This option rewards the player with the highest scoring team during the regular season. Note that the winner of this prize isn’t always the one with the best regular season record. You can expand this to include the 2nd and 3rd most regular season points also.
Common Payout Structure Categories
Many fantasy football leagues use one or more of these.
Regular Season Standings – Similar to the post season standings above, but based on the regular season. Usually awarded to the first place finisher only. You can expand to also include 2nd and 3rd places.
Highest Weekly Points – The team with the highest score each week gets a prize. Teams can win this multiple weeks during the season. This category usually only applies to regular season games and is paid out at the end of the season along with any other prizes. Using fractional points will reduce the chance of two teams tying for this category in any week so enable that option if you’re not already using it.
This is a good category to have because it’s fun and it gives teams that won’t make playoffs an extra incentive to keep playing hard near the end of the regular season. (They should do that anyway, but that’s another topic).
Highest Weekly Score of the Season – Similar to the weekly high score above but awarded once to the highest game score of the regular season.
Division or Conference Winners – This is for leagues that are grouped into divisions. Awards go to each division’s winner based on standings.
Alternative Payout Structure Categories
Here are some less common payout option ideas that can make your league more interesting.
Biggest Blowout – Award goes to the team that had the largest point spread over their opponent in a head to head game during the season. Specify whether this is only for regular season games or if playoff game blowouts are also eligible.
Longest Win Streak – Largest number of consecutive wins gets this prize. Including playoff games in the streak can reduce the chance of multiple teams winning this one.
If this is a keeper league or one with a stable group of players each year, consider allowing this season’s streak to include the streak from the end of last season. Including playoff games gives last year’s champion a significant advantage on the streak.
Winner Takes All – A simple ultra competitive payout structure. The league champion takes home all the money. Can’t get any simpler than that. The NFL playoff challenge league I play in uses this payout structure.
No Post Season – A radical approach where all 16 or 17 weeks are the regular season with no playoffs or championship game. Payout categories can be any combination of the regular season options discussed above.
Payout Categories to Avoid
Stay away from subjective award categories like Best Trash Talk or Best Trade Negotiator because they’re based on opinions and can cause arguments. Avoid that headache by sticking to objective categories that are easy to quantify based on win-loss records, point totals and playoff standings. No one can argue with those.
If you really want to award a prize for something subjective like Best Trash Talk, then make it a fun, non-cash prize. A certificate, trophy, or other bragging rights item will work for that.
The Fun Part
Now that you have a playbook full of potential payout options, you’re ready to decide which ones are good for your league. Talk to your league members, consult your Magic 8-Ball, or brainstorm your own categories. Feel free to tweak any of the ones presented here to meet your league’s needs.
Keep it simple, experiment, and have fun with it. If you’re a first time commissioner, don’t go too crazy out of the gate with a lot of categories. I know it’s tempting. Remember you can change it up next season.
Our next post covers how to set payout amounts for each award category you chose.
What other fantasy prize categories have you used?