Fantasy Football & the Evolution of Trade Evaluation

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Back in 2020, our very own Kyle Borgognoni wrote a powerful and impactful article arguing that we should be more thoughtful about our language when discussing fantasy football. Concurrently, the Fantasy Footballers Podcast completely adopted this lexicon to normalize more inclusive and forward-thinking language. Many other platforms and analysts have followed suit, either intentionally or unintentionally, and as a result, I rarely hear or read the old, antiquated, and potentially offensive language anymore. I gladly, and now de facto, refer to myself as a fantasy football manager who rosters a team each fall. I remain steadfastly impressed with how this organization acted as stewards in promoting inclusive language for fantasy football, and I am honored to be affiliated with such kind and considerate people.

Now, what I am proposing today is not nearly as important as the message Kyle and the Fantasy Footballers conveyed back in 2020, especially given the critical social justice impacts considered at the time that article was written. But still, similar to Kyle’s article, I am suggesting a change in language, and perhaps more importantly, philosophy when we discuss and evaluate trades among friends, on the podcast, and especially online. We use language to express opinions, and I believe there are better and more empathetic ways to express those opinions. Additionally, I believe that the conventional way we evaluate fantasy trades is shortsighted and often leads to discouragement, inflammatory language, and discourtesy, which is why I think this is still an important discussion.

Let’s try to change our habits and make the fantasy community a friendlier, more inclusive, and more courteous place.

Out with the Old

Fantasy trading is incredibly fun. Annually, the Fantasy Footballers Podcast answers the question from a listener “how can I encourage more trading in my fantasy league” because everybody loves fantasy trades. I get it – as a commissioner myself, I am always trying to encourage more trading. But one of the biggest detriments to fantasy trading is fear – fear that you might “lose the trade”.

Of course, I am aware of the “Endowment Effect” (the finding that people are more likely to retain an object they have than acquire that same object when they do not have it) and also the “Mere Ownership Effect” (the observation that people who have a good tend to evaluate it more positively than people who do not).

Prying away a fantasy player from another team always involves overcoming the Endowment Effect and/or the Mere Ownership Effect, but the fear of losing a trade is certainly mixed into all that psychology. My suggestions cannot overcome all illogical human psychology, but hopefully, with a change in language and a renewed understanding of trading in general, we can overcome some of the fear involved in fantasy trades.

So where does the fear come from? Our editor graciously shared a tweet from earlier this off-season that highlighted this sentiment. He jokingly added the “why is it my side” to emphasize the point about what trading has become.

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I am sure you have seen something similar. Indeed, there are many versions of this tweet. Some involve a poll, some involve proposed trades where the recipient would like to share his disbelief that someone would offer such an “unfair trade”, and I am sure there are other versions as well. But in all of these social media messages, there is a common misconception: that every trade has a “winner” and a “loser”.

Nobody Loses!

But the truth is, there is no such thing as “winning a trade”. Let me prove it to you.

Basic economics teaches us that when two parties agree to a trade, everybody wins. The first chapter of many economics textbooks will give you the “$10 for a steak” example where Party A sells a steak to Party B for $10. Economics will tell us the first party benefits from gaining $10, and the other party benefits from eating a steak. But you might be asking, “If both parties benefit from the trade, then who lost?” NOBODY! When people trade or conduct commercial transactions nobody loses! Now you may say, “But Nate, Party B is $10 poorer, so he lost”, and you would be wrong because Party B now has a steak, which he wanted to eat, and Party B valued that act of eating the steak to be worth at least $10. Party B got what he wanted – a belly full of delicious steak; he is still a winner in the swap. Not all value is measured in dollars (or fantasy points…).

The same basic economics concept applies to fantasy football: when two managers agree to trade fantasy players and/or draft assets, NOBODY LOSES! In truth, the concept of “winning” or “losing” a trade is an artificial construct we’ve created based on some fanciful present value that doesn’t truly exist, and more importantly, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about basic and proven economics. Instead, if you are happier with your team after a trade than you were before the trade, you win (and the same is true about your trading partner – you both won!)

In truth, this concept of “winning” or “losing” a trade boils down to the simple concept of “which collection of trade pieces do you prefer?”, which is a fine question to ask but remains completely subjective, and more importantly, lacks context. Maybe a team that traded Cam Akers has four great running backs, or maybe she is in a rebuild mode. Our evaluation of players like Cam Akers, who carries a divisive outlook in the fantasy community, easily seeps into the evaluation without taking more into account. If we understood the roster construction of that team, then maybe our opinion about the trade might change. Maybe both teams improved their fantasy roster or outlook.

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Also, please note that I haven’t even made the argument that we can’t see the future. I’ve seen many trades that were laughed at by the community turn out completely fine for the supposed “losing manager”, something the Ballers have touched on in many podcast episodes. But that argument ignores the present value of a trade, which should be all that matters. The arguments above are more persuasive in ridding our community of erroneous language that fails to grasp the truth of trading value, which is best explained with economic principles, not subsequent hindsight.

Unfortunately, far too many people fail to grasp the win-win nature of a trade. The misconception that a fantasy manager could “lose a trade” has led to bullying online or inconsiderate statements about other fantasy managers ability or intelligence. But, now that we know that fantasy trades can’t be lost, these statements must go.

In With the New

When it comes to social media, the improper “who won the trade” messages are typically posted for engagement purposes (or gloating purposes). I certainly don’t want to stop fantasy trade engagement or playful trash talk. But like in 2020, a change in language can solve both the misunderstandings about fantasy trading and will improve how we treat each other.

As I alluded to above, let’s ditch the “who won/lost the trade” language for “did I make my team better?

This language and this question are superior to the conventional, misled manner of speaking because those who post “did this trade improve my team” will probably need to provide context, like their current starting lineup, or why they decided to make the trade at all. Also, the question is no longer derogatory to one party; it becomes a self-assessment, not a popularity contest.

Moreover, now that we know neither team can lose the trade, the question really comes down to “did I significantly improve my team?” We can even use the change in roster status to have fun trash-talking. For example, “My friend Nate was kind enough to trade me Christian McCaffery, I am sure to win the championship now“. This form of trash talk is far better than “what an idiot Nate is for trading me Christian McCaffery for only a future draft pick…” The trash talk isn’t belittling, it’s whimsically self-promoting.

The Footclan is for everyone, and everyone gets to run their fantasy team however they like. Teams don’t lose trades, and the peanut gallery doesn’t always know better. Recognize humility, recognize that everybody wins when we trade and recognize the power of language in making the fantasy community a better place.

Now go make some trades!

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Tom says:

In the past, when I bothered to comment on social media posts where ppl asked for trade opinions – I always said “It’s not ‘who wins this trade’ but ‘did I improve my team’. Almost universally I was mocked & ridiculed every time I wrote that, for daring to speak common sense rather than share in the banal inflammatory comments that the herd enjoys so much. You speak the truth – unfortunately, the majority of the ppl who play fantasy sports care more about ego & hubris than common sense.

Spencer says:

I can’t tell what’s more entertaining, the article, or the comments. I hope Nate Henry was at least partially poking fun at the world that we live in with this article, because if so, he did a great job at it. He also made some great points, for improving the trade culture in leagues.

Travers says:

Nowhere in the article did I see the phrase: “be a woke social justice warrior.”
I play in a league where trades don’t happen because people are too consumed with winning the trade.
Changing the language helps change the mindset of everyone.
The point of the article is to bring more fun for everyone.
Remember Nate: Fun for one, is not fun for everyone!
Jo, these are not guys in their basement and language is important as “buy” and “by” mean very different things.

Jay Ouzts says:

“Fantasy football is about having fun.”

I agree. And if the use of “woke language” would help more people have fun, then I am all for it.

If the use of “woke language” causes people like Nate to have less fun, that’s their problem.

Finally, if people like Nate were more offended by police officers unjustly killing unarmed black men and getting away with it than they are with the use of “woke language”, maybe there wouldn’t be as much of a need for “woke language”.

Jo says:

Thanks Nate well said. I’m out of here all I want is to be entertain and play some fantasy football not preach to buy guys in their basement.

Nate says:

Or we just don’t need to get offended by every little thing nor does everything revolve around racism.

Don’t say owner.

Don’t call it an auction league.

Don’t say handcuff.

Fantasy football is about having fun; not being woke social justice warriors. My goodness!

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