Commissioner Guide: Increase Engagement with a Themed League (Fantasy Football)

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Inactivity is one of the leading causes of owners to leave a league or for leagues to fold. As more and more owners join multiple leagues each year, they will inevitably exceed their personal threshold and need to scale back. The leagues they select as their least favorite and worthy of eliminating will most likely be the ones they have a little tie to or just plain don’t care about as much as some others.

As a commissioner, one of the worst reasons to lose an owner in the league not being interesting enough. There is a myriad of reasons why owners love particular leagues, but one way to build some tie to the league is by making it a themed league. Themed leagues require the owners to frame their teams around the central concept of the league. There are a million and one themes out there, but the best ones can definitely build loyalty to the league that is not found in your common John Doe’s Fantasy Football League.

Editor’s Note: For more on this subject, make sure you dive into all our incredible commissioner-related content from Michael Weinrich.


Paramount to the entire concept of a themed league is participation. Each owner should feel the desire to participate in the theme. If a theme is selected that one or more owners do not feel comfortable with, think controversial topics, or forced into something they don’t appreciate, then your themed league can suddenly drive owners away. As laid out in my previous Commissioner Guide article, What Type of League are YOU Running?, first determine if this is YOUR theme or the League’s Theme. Perhaps you really want to play in a league that themed on the NFL, with real NFL names, divisions, logos, etc. On the flip-side, most themed leagues come about as a consensus; “what should we name this league? Oh, let’s make it a league about Marvel Superheroes!” Regardless of how the theme came about, getting every owner to buy into the theme is crucial to successful participation.


You could pretty much create a theme from anything in the universe, and there are varying levels of depth to the themes. Making your theme too broad may prove to be a problem just as much as an overly complex and specific topic. With the surge in Superhero movies, there are plenty of themes available, but perhaps you hadn’t anticipated an owner selecting Captain Underpants as their superhero when your initial intent was Marvel or DC Comics. If it matters; state it.

Conversely, being overly specific could make owners feel ostracized by having to select a perceived inferior team. In the NFL Team example, making your criteria limited to three NFL divisions from the same conference, let’s use the AFC East, North, and South as an example; if there are two owners who are die-hard fans of the Steelers, you may have issues between them if one is forced to select the Ravens.

Another problem may arise if there are some owners who are not “into” the theme. Perhaps a Star Wars theme isn’t the best selection for a league with some owners who are not fans of the movie series. You want to make sure that everyone is excited by the theme.


Creating that recurring buy-in from your owners is key to the theme’s success. However, sometimes a theme might get stale after time and require a refresh of the theme. Sometimes you can stay within the same theme, while other times you may want to start from scratch. It’s important to include your owners in a decision to overhaul the entire theme.

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Another problem is owners constantly changing their team names. I would always encourage teams to keep the same team name for the duration of the year, but allow changes each off-season. If you are in a league where you may not know everyone or recognize them by their team name, I suggest having them add their name to the end of the team name in brackets: Average Joe’s [Mike]. Did you all meet and form the league on a social media platform? Have them use their username inside the brackets.


Regardless of how specific your theme is or is not, you should definitely have a set of rules or guidelines in place to promote that continuity and participation. Not to be limited to just the theming of the league, there can be rules about how the theme is decided. In a dynasty league that was created with my fellow writers here at The Fantasy Footballers, we just instituted three new rules:

  1. The League Champion will decide the theme for the following season.
  2. Second and Third place finishers will become the “captain” of a division and are tasked with naming their division within the theme of the league.
  3. We will hold an owner draft, where the two captains select the teams they want to have within their division.

This year we hosted the owner draft on a video conference and had a great time connecting about the league and the recent rookie draft results. Plenty of fun was had drafting our fellow owners and talking smack along the way!


One of the most boring aspects of every league is the use of stock logos. As more and more league hosting programs move their primary league interactions to their mobile interfaces, the team logos have become smaller and less prominent. For those owners who opt not to use a stock logo, oftentimes they simply go to google and click an image from their search, without any modification. The logo is then shoehorned into the parameters of the hosting site and is often skewed or stretched beyond recognition.

Every hosting site allows you to upload your own graphic for your team within specific size guidelines. A common misconception is that you don’t need to be a graphic designer to create a great custom logo for your team. Any document or presentation program will allow you to crop your images, resize them, and even do some overall color shifting. You can add 3-D text and colorful borders. If you have access to Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, you’ll have the ability to “remove background” from images as well. With minimal effort and a bit of playing around within the programs, you can make player cut-outs, apply them to your own background image, add some funky 3-D text, and ultimately have an interesting logo.

Armed with these guidelines, I hope you can convince your league to convert to a themed league. It will bring your league closer together and really built that comradery that everyone loves in their favorite leagues.

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