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Ascending-Bid Auction in Fantasy Football Drafts

I’ve always been a bit of a sports fanatic. Ever since elementary school, I’ve supported my favorite teams by going to games, wearing jerseys, following statistics, etc. From high school until today, I’ve had my own “fantasy” football team in a league with a group of friends. The league has 14 members total and we each draft players from around the NFL to fit the position slots of a traditional roster (quarterback, wide receivers, running back, etc.) to eventually build our own unique team (independent of the teams the players are actually on). There is a point system in the fantasy league that is based on the statistics of the players. Each week, two teams go head-to-head, and whoever has the highest point total wins that week.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the season is the draft, as it requires a certain level of strategy and intelligence of the game. In the past I usually participated in a “snake draft.” This particular draft initially randomizes the order and then goes back and forth among the league, alternating who picks in a linear fashion.

But this year, I was part of an “auction draft.” Each league member is given a budget of $200 to fill the 15 different player spots. League members “nominates” a player and this opens the field to an English auction. Under this ascending-bid model, the auction is carried out in real time as the prices rise, bidders drop out and eventually one bidder remains and wins that player at the final price. While, Yahoo! and various other websites that host these fantasy auctions set values for every player based on their past and projected performances, these values are largely speculative. It’s impossible to know if a player if one player is going to get injured, or if another simply had one (fluke) good season last year, or if another player unexpectedly will have a breakout career-defining season. So, for the most part, the true values are independent and private from one another, yet they essentially stay within a reasonable range from a common value.

There are a number of game-theoretic ideas in play here. The various strategies for these auction drafts are outlined in the following paragraph (with the links to sources that suggest these strategies and others below). During the bid process, members are constantly reacting to which positions slots other members of the league already have filled (for example, I know I can most likely outbid one of my friends for a quarterback if he already has one). Additionally, there are varying philosophies on how to utilize your budget: acquire a few star players for a high price and mediocre-to-low performing fillers more economically, or draft a well-balanced team of medium skill. Another strategy is to nominate a player you don’t even want on your team simply to drive up the price and give you room in your budget to outbid other members in the league on another player you want later down the road. It is important to not get involved in a heated bidding war that has you paying far more than your intrinsic value.

Essentially, this fantasy football auction draft is one big game that requires you to react to the behavior of others while bidding in multiple individual player auctions, while ALSO envisioning the big picture that these pieces must come together under a budget to form the best team possible.



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