10 Surprising Marketing Lessons You Can Learn From Fantasy Football

Would you believe I’m the marketer I am today because of fantasy football?

It’s true. I’m only 25 years old, but I’ve been playing fantasy football half my life and I’m commissioner of three leagues.

Think about that for a second. 12 years of my life have gone towards this game. I was 13 when I started playing. That’s 2002.

Just for a point of reference, in 2002 American Idol was brand new, Apple computers still came in different translucent colors, and ESPN.com — the site I’ve played fantasy football on every year — looked like this:

ESPN Homepage

When you play for that long, you tend to learn some things. Take a running back in the first round, pull the trigger on a free agent in Week 3 and never draft Eli Manning under any circumstances (he is not, as his commercials imply, unstoppable).

As a marketer, however, I’ve taken away something else from this game. I’ve learned practical lessons that can help you out on the real gridiron — the world of marketing.


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You know that teeter-totter feeling you get when faced with a tough decision? Something like, “Do I allocate the rest of my marketing budget towards Adwords or emails?”

It happens in fantasy football, too.

A lot.

Fantasy Football Example

It’s called the infamous “late night tinker,” and it’s not something a toddler does in their diaper.

Picture this: It’s Week 15 in 2009. I’m in the semi-finals. I’ve got five running backs and only three can start. There’s absolutely no room for error, which means I had to nail my lineup selections.

It came down to two players for the last starting slot: Joseph Addai, the running back for the Colts who was having a great year and scored two touchdowns in Week 13; or Jonathan Stewart, the running back for the Panthers who was ice-cold lately and going against the stout Vikings defense.

I went back and forth all week. Each article and chat room I read would make me switch the two players out. I must’ve flip-flopped a dozen times, and with five minutes left until the first game I ended up sitting Stewart and starting Addai.

Guess which one of the two scored 6 points as opposed to 23? Yep, Jonathan Stewart went on a rampage on my bench, and I lost that game by nine points. All thanks to a game-time piece of indecision.

How It Applies to Marketing

The beauty and beast of marketing lies in the inherent multi-faceted tools we have at our disposal. The options are endless, and the choices within these constructs can be daunting.

There are so many decisions we can make, with each creating new possible paths towards either success or failure. We have to make choices that are dependent on so many moving variables, and a single misstep can cause us to feel regret.

Along the lines of decision theory, regret is something we try to minimize. The idea of failure in a situation creates regret, and regret is an emotion our subconscious tries to block out. That leads to this involuntary reflex of going back and forth between decisions. Judgement is fickle, especially if we don’t have 100% total control over an outcome.

That’s why you need to make your choice and stick with it. You can’t control every external factor that goes into marketing something. Once you do your due diligence, stand firm in a yes or no decision.

Whatever happens, if you have confidence in what you do, then the outcome can never be bad. Either your decision yields the result you expected, or it doesn’t and you learn from the experience in order to come back stronger the next time.


When it comes down to it, ROI and percentages are the name of the game in this new marketing world.

In the world of fantasy football, whoever can put up the most points wins. Even if you don’t actually know who your players are.

Fantasy Football Example

When my roommate started playing fantasy football, he literally didn’t follow any football except the Minnesota Vikings (and only kind of). He knew none of the players, and barely knew most of the teams.

Yet that year (to my disappointment), he won the league.

That’s right. The guy who would routinely watch SportsCenter and remark, “Oh, so that’s what team he plays for…” beat guys like me who read more fantasy football chat boards than actual, real world news.

He didn’t know players.

But he knew numbers.

He analyzed players based solely on statistical output, viewing these professionals as nothing more than numbers. By taking out the subjective “sticker name” bias, he was able to make calculated, rational decisions centered around performance.

How It Applies to Marketing

In the new world of big data marketing, your numbers represent your audience.

Open rates, shares, comments, click through rate…we use these numbers to measure how effective our marketing efforts are. There are people behind those numbers, just like in fantasy football, but we focus our attention to the statistical end result.

Just look at the advent of the split-test. At LeadPages, we’re constantly split-testing our landing pages, and we make it easy for our customers to do the same (and we highly encourage it). The whole goal of split-testing is to make decisions based on numbers (which version had the higher conversion rate?) instead of your personal preference (which version “looks better”?)

Think about Google Analytics, even. Each person who visits your site has a different reason for visiting, but at the end of the day we look at the bigger aggregate number. Those overall numbers can tell a powerful story, shaping the way you design your user experience.

Listening to numbers can make you a smart (and successful) marketer.


Numbers are important in marketing. But they’re not everything. They don’t tell the whole story, and you have to be diligent to sift through what numbers are real or, in some cases, twisted.

Fantasy Football Example

Matthew Berry — a.k.a. “The Talented Mr. Roto” — is ESPN’s Senior Fantasy Analyst, and he writes a very interesting piece at the beginning of each football season called “100 Facts.”

He delves into interesting and noteworthy stats about certain players for two reasons:

  1. To make you aware of interesting potential trends in player performance.
  2. To show you just how deceiving numbers can be.

With that in mind, see if you can guess the two quarterbacks he’s talking about in his article’s introduction:

“QB1” was a fantasy stud last year. He finished as a top-10 quarterback and had more 30-point games than any quarterback not named Peyton or Drew. His attempts, completions, touchdowns, yards, QB rating and QBR have improved every year he’s been in the league. And he has started every game of his career, so it’s easy to see why this 4,000-yard passer was a high draft pick.

On the other hand, “QB2” is being drafted well outside the top 10 this year, and it’s no shock why. His interceptions have increased every year he has been in the league, his completion percentage decreased from the previous season, and his QBR was just four tenths of a point better than Ryan Fitzpatrick’s. With the fifth most interceptions in the NFL last year, it’s not surprising his team just hired a new offensive coordinator known for running the ball; in his latest job as a playcaller, this coach was top four in the NFL in rush attempts and rush yards.

Figure out who the two quarterbacks are? Guess what?

They’re the same person. Andy Dalton, if you were curious.

Funny how different numbers can paint two totally different narratives, isn’t it?

How It Applies to Marketing

We are constantly up to our eyeballs in numbers. There’s no shortage of analysis or tools to help marketing professionals get down to the gold nugget hiding amidst their various marketing platforms.

That’s why it’s important to always consider context when looking at numbers. The right numbers in the wrong context are just as bad as inherently wrong numbers.What good is a record number of impressions if overall sales are actually decreasing?

You have to be able to understand what numbers matter to your specific business and what numbers are inconsequential. For example, pageviews would matter a lot to a blogger whose goal is ad revenue, but the importance of pageviews might pale in comparison to monthly recurring revenue for a SaaS company.

Don’t equate large numbers with safety. Do your research, understand the context of your medium and the environment you’re competing in, and then look at your numbers through that lens.


Rarely is marketing perfect, and even rarer still is the notion of “having it all.” This isn’t Burger King, and sometimes you just can’t have it all your way.

Fantasy Football Example

Nothing feels worse than losing points because your team is scoring.

Let me explain. Last year, on the first day of the season, I had two players “going against” each other. My quarterback, Peyton Manning, was playing against the Baltimore Ravens defense — the same defense I just happened to be starting on my fantasy team that week.

It’s never fun when you have an offensive player going against your defense. If your player scores, then your defense loses points.

So here I am, half cheering for Peyton to go big…but not TOO big. Some sort of happy medium would be nice.

Manning proceeded to eviscerate the Ravens defense to the tune of 462 yards and 7 touchdowns. That’s good for 46 points, and in my league that meant the Ravens netted me -13 points.

That’s right. They actually took points away from me. In order for Peyton Manning to have the game of his life, the Ravens needed to play ole defense.

Quite the trade off, wouldn’t you say?

How It Applies to Marketing

It’s all about opportunity cost.

What will you give up in one area in order to gain knowledge/success in another?

And for those who believe they can have it all, remember that the very nature of opportunity cost is evaluating the value of the best alternative forgone. Basically, you’re stacking up the potential outcomes of a given action and deciding on which one will hurt less if you didn’t select it.

It is destructive yet empowering by design. Whenever you spend time and resources in one area, you’re guaranteed to lose ground in a different area.

You see this all the time when setting up marketing goals. Sending visitors to an external website might be great from a partnership standpoint, but you’ll see your bounce rate inflate a bit (which can hurt your SEO).

From a much broader scope, think about this opportunity cost in terms of your overall marketing practices. Spending all that time building up a Twitter audience means your potential Facebook crowd goes stagnant or shrinks.

Understand that these trade offs will occur, evaluate your outcomes and ensure you’re focusing on the option that will have the most impact on your business.


It seems like every day there’s a new marketing strategy or technique that can supposedly change the game for your business. With so much noise, it’s important to know exactly what your overarching marketing philosophy is. That way, when you’re being poked and prodded to try out the latest craze, you can make an informed decision based on whether it actually fits into your philosophy or not.

Even if a large majority of people are opposed to that viewpoint, like many were with mine.

Fantasy Football Example

In the first season of each of the three leagues I run, most of the players hated me.

See, in my leagues, I have the firm belief that the free agency pool should be fresh throughout the year. I don’t like when people hoard players because it leads to player scarcity, which causes teams to suffer or get forced into unfair trades.

That’s why I employ a roster cap. No more than four running backs and five wide receivers per team. It ensures that there’s always a viable backup/breakout star available to pick up.

Most people don’t like it. They want to have ALL the players. They complain whenever they have to drop someone. Direct comparisons are made between me and another name for “donkey.”

But I firmly stand behind the philosophy because I know, big picture, that it makes the league function better for everyone. It’s one of my fundamental beliefs, and it definitely sets me apart from other commissioners.

How It Applies to Marketing

Quick question: Where do you stand on double opt-in lists vs single opt-ins?

How about the effectiveness of advertising on Facebook vs Twitter? The value of impressions in online advertising campaigns?

If you found yourself shrugging your shoulders to any of those questions, you might need to take a little time to think about where you stand on these sorts of issues.

Granted, I’m not saying these are the specific topics you should 100% have a strong opinion on, but you should at least stand on one side of the fence or the other.

It might not even be about high-level marketing morals, but rather a way to use a certain marketing medium or position your messaging.

Look at Old Spice, for example. Some people think their brand is ridiculous and over the top, while others believe it’s the funniest thing to ever grace the internet. Hate them or love them, it’s how they’ve decided to represent themselves.

Having an informed opinion and strong stance helps guide your marketing and shape your brand, which gives your messaging a distinct look and feel.

What philosophies and practices differentiate you from other marketers?


53 million.

That’s how many people used the internet almost 20 years ago. Any guesses to what that number is now?

2.9 billion.

You better believe this increase changed the way we market. Things change, and you must be ready to shift with the tide.

Especially when change derails months of planning.

Fantasy Football Example

Imagine a month of planning going down the drain within two minutes.

That’s what happened in one of my drafts this year. I mapped out each round, thinking of scenarios for each owner and what player could potentially fall to me at my pick.

The fantasy gods decided to smite my foresight and planning, as all the players I anticipated falling to me in the first round were gone two picks before my pick.

Not good.

Imagine my horror when the same thing happened in the 2nd round. I took yet another player I didn’t plan on drafting, and those two selections shifted the entire way I drafted the rest of the night.

At the end of it all, my team looks nothing like the ones from my mock drafts.

Yet it still looked like a great team. Why?

Because I wasn’t entrenched in my game plan, which gave me the flexibility to go with the draft’s flow.

How It Applies to Marketing

In the mid 2000s, a computer application took the world by storm. It was widely considered the most popular thing at the time, and many marketers believed it could be a viable cornerstone in their advertising efforts for years to come.

That application? Second Life.

If you’re scratching your head, then you’ve proved my point. That game barely exists anymore, and it certainly isn’t the cornerstone of anything.

The marketing world moves fast. Doesn’t it feel like Facebook has been in your life forever? They’re integrated in almost every website and app on the planet, yet they’ve only been in existence for ten years.

Doesn’t it seem like you’re bombarded with imagery whenever you’re on any social media platform? This “visual marketing” trend was spurred by the success of sites like Pinterest and Instagram, yet four years ago those companies didn’t even exist.

This profession and the tools we use are constantly evolving. What’s big one minute may not even exist in a month. When you build your efforts around ideas instead of methods, you have the ability to be flexible when change hits.


Not only is this business about conducting morally sound practices, but it’s about treating other people fairly.

Would you want to get the wool pulled over your eyes? I’m guessing you wouldn’t.

And neither did this next person.

Fantasy Football Example

It was 2009, and Adrian Peterson had just come off a 1,700-yard, 10-touchdown season with the Vikings.

The day after our draft, a trade was proposed that involved my friend Marc giving Adrian Peterson and receiving Stephen Jackson from Chris (who had never played fantasy football before). The two players were somewhat comparable, so the trade was deemed fair and approved.

Unfortunately, Marc was trading Adrian Peterson from the Chicago Bears.

That’s right. There were two Adrian Petersons that year — both running backs, though the Bears one was horrible — and Marc knowingly made the trade with the intent to scam Chris.

Needless to say, the league (and Chris) was outraged. The trade was eventually overturned, however, because Chris legitimately had no idea there were two Petersons and Marc had pulled shady stuff like that in the past.

How It Applies to Marketing

As marketers, we wield more power and influence than we often realize.

For instance, just read this statement and tell me if you squirmed a little:

“Children are a lucrative market.”

That’s a real thing that was said. A phrase like that makes you stop and think about our role within the context of society. What exactly is it?

We shape the the way people feel about things. Every day, we’re constantly surrounding people with advertising through various channels. Our words and thoughts manifest in the minds of consumers, with the end goal of buying/signing up for something. It is a profoundly heavy responsibility, and we must be vigilant in how we communicate to the population.

This doesn’t solely apply to external messaging, either. The opportunity calls out like a siren in the night when you’re reporting statistical performance in your campaigns.

Numbers can be interpreted a lot of different ways. Technically, you can make any statement true if you twist numbers the right way (read the book How to Lie with Statistics). But it takes ethical fortitude to present the numbers that matter — even when those numbers aren’t so favorable.

If you ever feel like you’re in a dilemma, or if you want to see what the current thoughts are on the subject, check out the American Marketing Association’s Code of Ethics.


It’s fascinating how powerful knowledge is. When you take in multiple opinions and pieces of information, you can make decisions based on a wider understanding of a topic.

Sometimes, soaking in all that news means you stumble on things that haven’t been widely covered yet, which can pay huge dividends. Just ask my friend Jarrod.

Fantasy Football Example

Confession time. When it’s fantasy football season, I read more on that subject than I do actual, real-world news. I’m so fun to talk to in social gatherings.

Flashback to 2004. We were heading into the league draft, and I was consuming every bit of information I could find on every team in the NFL.

One interesting thing I found as I was perusing the internet (which, in 2004, was quite a chore): There were rumblings in the Chiefs camp that there would be a changing of the guard at running back. Some guy named Larry Johnson was looking insanely good in preseason camp, and he was vying to take carries from the (then) unstoppable Priest Holmes.

I live in Minnesota, as did most of the people in the league. Needless to say, no one was keeping up with the Kansas City Chiefs’ preseason affairs.

No one, that is, except me.

I took Larry Johnson late in our draft, and he ended up taking over that backfield and putting up a nice 2,000-yard, 21-touchdown year. I beat Jarrod in the championship as I rode Larry Johnson to victory.

The power of information, folks.

How It Applies to Marketing

You’re probably expecting me to sing the praises of reading anything and everything published on the web.

To quote Dwight Schrute, “False.”

There’s just too much out there. Try to absorb it all and you’ll find yourself lost in the myriad of options.

Don’t get me wrong. While absorbing external pieces of content is certainly important for keeping up with trends, I like to use this philosophy more in internal business proceedings. If someone at your company has access to information and is willing to give YOU access to what they’re seeing, you’d be foolish not to take them up on that offer.

I can’t tell you how many of my marketing decisions and blog posts have come from just asking for random things at work and just listening. At my previous job, people were so puzzled why I was asking to receive the mountain of customer emails we’d get daily.

It’s because I wanted to get a bigger picture of what was going on in the entire company instead of just my department. Being able to see what customers said, combined with analytics from our market research department, helped me gain insight into why conversion rates on a page were so low — something the marketing agency we had hired couldn’t solve.

When it comes to your business, you should know it inside and out. Rather than allowing the vast breadth of external information to distract you, spend more time focusing on the little internal details most people are too busy to bother with. Game-changing insights are often hidden within the seemingly irrelevant.


The majority of marketing articles you’ll find don’t talk about the day-to-day grind.

That’s not sexy. It doesn’t get the clicks, shares and readership that a polarizing topic will get.

But it’s just as important. And if you don’t respect the grind, you’ll end up in a situation like this next person.

Fantasy Football Example

He doesn’t want to be used for this example, so for the sake of anonymity let’s call him “Shane.”

Shane knows football. He’s like the Good Will Hunting of football stats. He legitimately thought he could be the next commissioner of the NFL.

He joined my fantasy football league in 2008 and, unsurprisingly, had a killer draft. Usually, you talk serious trash to other league members about a roster shortcoming after the draft, but no one could make fun of his roster. It was just that good.

He didn’t check his team the rest of the year. No free agency pickups, no roster moves, nothing. His high-powered team started to fade, and he ended up being bounced in the first round of playoffs.

He was all about the fun of the draft, but the tedious process of weekly team maintenance bored him. Ultimately, that’s why he failed. He didn’t want to put in the time doing the small things that are crucial for success.

How It Applies to Marketing

Commenting on every post. Updating small copy points in landing pages. Adjusting HTML to align things juuuuust right. Monitoring ad groups on your online advertising. Writing multiple email subject lines for future use.

You don’t see that stuff in Mad Men (mostly because they didn’t have computers, but you get the point). It doesn’t make for good television and, quite frankly, it can get pretty tedious.

But it’s all absolutely vital.

It’s the small things that lay the groundwork for big results. Monumental results don’t just happen overnight. There’s so much grinding that goes into success, and you don’t hear about it because it seems second nature to successful people. They don’t even think about it because they just do it.

I get it. You most likely don’t like to do those small things 24/7. My suggestion is to find a time of the day where you’re very productive, knock out all the things you don’t want to do and do that every day. Soon, it won’t feel like as much of a chore, and you’ll cultivate the habit that separates great marketers from mediocre ones.


As the great philosopher Eminem said, “You only get one shot. Would you capture it, or let it slip?”

When you do all the little things right, eventually you’ll have that make-or-break opportunity that will alter your course for better or worse.

And when you absolutely crush it, nothing feels better. My friend Tony can attest to that with the power of the salsa dance.

Fantasy Football Example

The 2011 season was shaping up to be an interesting one. In Week 3, as the waiver wire started to get thin, an unknown player burst onto the scene with a 110-yard, two-touchdown performance. His name was Victor Cruz, and Tony had a sink-or-swim moment that defined his season.

He spent nearly his entire $50 free agency budget on Victor Cruz.

That meant he would be virtually unable to pick up any free agents the entire year, even if a player on his roster went down with an injury. But, as he told me, “This is the guy. I think he’s gonna do big things.”

And he was right. Almost everyone in the league put big money down to acquire the services of this potential breakout star. But he got Cruz with an even bigger gamble.

And did it ever pay off.

Not only did Victor Cruz salsa dance in the endzone 10 times that year, but he single-handedly guided Tony to the playoffs.

Where he beat me. In the championship game. With a 162-yard, one-touchdown game from Victor Cruz.

How It Applies to Marketing

We all have that make-or-break moment.

Heck, look what our CEO, Clay Collins, did with LeadPages. He had less than five people on staff when he started giving away free landing page templates to his blog readers. In the comments section, people kept asking how to install them/integrate them/customize them, and Clay had his make-or-break moment.

He acted on that moment, restructuring his business to create high-converting, fully customizable templates that anyone can use. Now, LeadPages is one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the nation and we have over 80 employees (as of this writing).

That make-or-break moment is a point in time where you see an opportunity and that voice in your mind goes, “This is it. This could change everything.”

Some people act on that moment. Some don’t. That moment is fleeting and rare, because success doesn’t wait for you. It doesn’t take your hand and lead you down the path to riches.

Success is for the brave. It is reserved for those who are willing to break out and act on the moments that no one else will. It’s that mentality of “I would rather take that opportunity and risk failing than not act and wonder what could have been.”

Do all the small things, all the day-to-day tasks that set you up for that moment. Then, when the moment comes, I urge you to take that chance and see what happens. You never know what great things you’ll accomplish.

Do You Play Fantasy Football?

Are you a fantasy football player? If you are, what have you learned from the game that applies to marketing? Shoot a quick comment below and share that insightful wisdom!