Although picking a site to host a fantasy football league may seem like a simple and straightforward decision, there are many differences between the services each site offers that can enhance or diminish your league’s enjoyment. Finding the right host is one of the first and most important decisions for a commissioner (or league) to make, and a multitude of aspects need to be taken into consideration.
I’ve played on most fantasy football hosting sites throughout the years, but I didn’t think my experience alone was sufficient for this guide. I came up with five of the most important aspects of a fantasy football league hosting service, and had avid fantasy players score the most popular hosting sites (ESPN, NFL.com, Yahoo!, CBSSports, MyFantasyLeague, and Fleaflicker) on a scale of 0 to 5. I then had them rank the sites in terms of pure personal preference. Not every player had used every service. Here are the percentages of players surveyed that have used each service.
ESPN is by far the most popular, followed by Yahoo. Here are how the users rate each service on the most important criteria:
Ease of Use
Maybe it’s mainly because ESPN is the most popular host and has informed what users expect out of a fantasy football site, but players certainly agree that it is very easy to use. The only service that players rate unfavorably in terms of ease of use is MFL, which makes sense since it is intended for more advanced players and is more concerned with flexibility than simplicity.
Similar to the rankings on Ease of Use, ESPN takes the cake for UI and Design, with Fleaflicker and MFL at the bottom. NFL.com has too many ads, videos, and other clutter for my taste.
Customization & Flexibility
The tides turned when players ranked customization & flexibility, as MFL is rated the highest by a wide margin. Both Fleaflicker and MFL forego ease of use for flexibility. Notice that NFL.com is at the bottom of the pack.
When it comes to features such as live scoring, player analysis, and projections, the major companies rank the highest. It is not surprising to see Fleaflicker ranked last, as it is a bare-bones hosting service that requires a premium account for even basic features. Yahoo jumps to the top for this one.
ESPN recently redid their mobile app and it is fantastic. Neither MFL or Fleaflicker have mobile apps, but they do have mobile sites that you can bookmark. MFL also has some third party apps available, but not all of them are free.
I asked the survey participants to rank the hosting services that they used. Yahoo and ESPN were the favorites by far, with Yahoo getting the narrow edge. This ranking may not be fair to Fleaflicker and MFL, since they are the services that support dynasty formats 100% and that is what they’re known for.
As for my personal preference, I currently use ESPN, NFL.com, and Fleaflicker. ESPN is definitely my favorite. It has a good UI, good mobile app, and is sufficiently flexible for redraft leagues. Fleaflicker is very bare bones and doesn’t have many features. It even lacks some simple dynasty-related features such as in-draft draft pick trading, but it gets the job done for my dynasty league for the most part. I’m not a big fan of NFL.com’s service in any facet.
Survey participants also provided plenty of feedback on some open ended questions. I read through them all and compiled some recurring themes that could help you decide which hosting service to go with:
Are there any services that you have stopped using or gone away from? Why?
Most users that answered “yes” to this question stopped using services because of:
- poor mobile apps (Fleaflicker, NFL, MFL)
- a lack of flexibility for new formats and settings (ESPN)
- a distaste for the UI (pretty much every service had at least one survey participant that left because they didn’t like the UI, but MFL had the most)
Have you had any reliability or support issues with any of these services?
The most common issues users had were:
- Live draft interruptions or crashes (Yahoo)
- Delayed live scoring (NFL)
- Mobile app crashing (NFL)
- Lack of support for non-redraft type leagues (ESPN)
Are there any services that you feel are better for certain fantasy formats and worse for others?
The most common answers were:
- ESPN and Yahoo are ideal for re-draft leagues that don’t need too much customization.
- MFL is ideal for dynasty leagues and Fleaflicker is also a good option, but neither are good for re-draft
Most league management services offer a basic free option. For the Fantasy giants (ESPN, Yahoo, NFL.com), all levels of league customization are free. The only leagues that cost money on these sites are their prize leagues. In prize leagues, each player pays a buy-in to the site before the season, and winners collect either a percentage of the league pot or other prizes such as gift cards. Almost all sites offer some version of this format now. Here is a chart documenting site costs:
For re-draft and other fairly standard league types, our survey participants are split on Yahoo and ESPN. Personally I think you can’t go wrong with either. If you prefer a great mobile app and lots of useful “extras”, go with ESPN. If you prefer a clean look and smooth interface, go with Yahoo.
If you’re looking to start a dynasty league, I think your options are limited to Fleaflicker and MyFantasyLeague. Most of the other sites say they support Dynasty formats, but they often shut down for months in the offseason and don’t support basic dynasty options such as future draft pick trading. Fleaflicker is obviously the more cost effective option, and its simple UI works well. It does come with many limitations though (no player salaries or in-draft trading), so if you’ve got a serious league with some serious players that includes huge roster sizes and complex settings, I would pony up the $70 to use MyFantasyLeague.