How to Host a Fantasy Football Draft Party This Year

We know it’s been a while, but these tips will help you plan the perfect draft day.

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Football has always been an escape. Even when nothing seems to be going right, you could count on those perfect Sundays from September to February providing a safe harbor in a storm. And when your fantasy team is absolutely wrecking Kyle from accounts payable or your brother-in-law’s team of scrubs? Well, there are few better things to bask in on an autumn weekend.

Then COVID came along and threw a wrench into all of that. Last year’s pro football season was a bizarre, uncanny affair full of piped-in crowd noise for many weeks, and there were more than a few scheduling hiccups that wreaked havoc on fantasy football squads. GMs were left scrambling to figure out who they would field thanks to last-minute postponements, leading to more than a few frustrating losses.

But perhaps most disheartening was that those Sundays were, for the most part, spent in isolation. The ability to gloat about your stud running back notching another TD to your opponent's face is one of the greatest things about fantasy football. A text message or a video call just didn’t scratch that itch.

It’s been six months since the last kick off, and things have — thankfully — started to change. Vaccinations are allowing for more safe gatherings, and that means that fantasy football drafts, the tradition that marks the beginning of the football season for many people, can go back to their former glory. We know it’s been a while, so if you’re planning an in-person draft party, this guide will help you shake off the rust and prepare for a return to form:

Decide between home field and a neutral site


Location is everything, and deciding where you’re going to host your draft might be the most important call you make.

Hosting at home has its benefits: It gives you control and the ability to schedule everything from arrival times to food prep to when things should wrap up. For commissioners who have most of their league within an acceptable radius — or at least an extra couple beds for out-of-towners to crash on — hosting at home is a good chance to get everyone together on a budget as well.

For commissioners putting together a draft day that includes more far-flung participants, picking a spot that is both convenient and conducive to a good draft day is crucial. That means avoiding hotels unless you’re going to snag a suite large enough to accommodate the entire crew comfortably for a few hours. Stick to house rentals with large common spaces so that there isn’t any jostling for space or arguments about not being able to see the draft board from rival GMs.

Whatever decision you make on location, remember that this isn’t just a party, this is a draft party. Making the right call on place and space is vital.

Be a system quarterback


There’s nothing worse than a disorganized draft day. The order hasn’t been finalized, GMs are still arguing over whether it’s a keeper league or not, there aren’t enough chairs for everyone in the draft room. There are a million things that can throw a wrench into the perfect fantasy football draft, so make sure you get a system that works for your league in place well before draft day. Here’s what to consider:

Decide whether you want a physical or a digital draft board and who is going to manage the board. Both have their benefits: Physical boards possess an old school flair and there’s nothing like the look of horror in your opponents’ eyes when you make a deft pick and pin it up yourself. Digital boards are easier to manage and take the guesswork out of managing who’s been picked and what positions on your team need to be filled.

Other vital decisions include how much time people have to make their picks, and what the rules on draft day trades look like. Punishments for violations are also up to you, whether it’s forcing a GM to give up a later round draft pick for going over time or something more severe for breaking trading rules, like giving up your team’s naming rights.

Have a game plan for the day


Now that you’ve gotten the draft day rules written in stone, it’s time to get the rest of the schedule in order. Keeping your league well-fed is crucial, so make sure that there’s a meal strategy in place. That could be anything from a themed potluck to an ambitious barbecue menu for commissioners hosting at home. (Check out this recipe for tamarind chipotle ribs to get some inspiration.)

For the destination drafters, going with a catered or delivered spread eases the pain of preparation while simultaneously testing the local delicacies. (If you’re wondering where to order from in dozens of cities around the country, we have the goods.) The same strategy goes for beverages: There’s nothing worse than a bare cooler in the 4th round and drawing straws to see who has to head to the store. So make sure you over prepare.

Draft days also have a tendency to fizzle after the big event is done with; the average draft only takes around 90 minutes to wrap up, which means that you either need to extend the process itself or make sure there are a lot of other activities on the table. Inter-round trivia and games with prizes is a great way to keep the whole crew entertained and engaged. You can run quizzes based on the previous season’s results, like what the most lopsided victory was or the biggest upset.

But remember the most important thing on draft day is to have fun. Buy a podium and a karaoke machine and announce the first pick like it’s prime time. Make people submit their picks on note cards and submit them to you before their time is up. Have a reward for the GM who takes the first kicker off the board. Celebrating the symbolic kickoff of football season together again warrants going a little over the top.