7 Basic Auction Principles

Updated: August 13th 2015


Long before Reality Sports Online existed, I was a HUGE proponent of fantasy auction drafts. I have always had an affinity for numbers, but my passion for auctions is simpler than that. Each owner has the opportunity to buy or sign any player. There’s no “luck of the draw” for draft slot, and every owner has the same probability of winning the league entering the auction as any other. I can craft the team I want, and I’m not bound by my slot. Every minute of the “auction draft” is action packed. This is how most snake drafts go for me: Wait a few minutes, try (and fail) to trade back, make a pick that I’m not thrilled with, wait a few minutes…wait a few more minutes, get upset because the player I wanted next was selected in the spot right in front of me, sulk, make an irrational frustration pick, and repeat.  I know for a fact that many fantasy owners are intimidated by auction formats. There’s no shame in admitting it… it’s one of the biggest challenges we face when trying to get fantasy owners to try our fantasy Front Office platform.

For anybody who isn’t familiar with Reality Sports Online, it’s a platform that enables fantasy owners to build and manage their team like an NFL General Manager. The platform features a Rookie draft, partially guaranteed contracts, real salary cap management, injured reserve, a franchise tag, and more. The platform’s greatest feature is the Free Agency Auction Room, which facilitates as many as 32 fantasy owners to compete against each other to negotiate with and sign athletes to single or multi-year contracts, live-online. If you’re an active fantasy auction advocate, or you’re just somebody looking for a deeper, more engaging fantasy experience, you should try the Reality Sports Online fantasy Front Office platform.

If you find yourself among the people hesitant to embrace auctions…there really is nothing to fear.  Managing a budget isn’t hard…you do it every day in life. Fantasy is a game of statistics. Fantasy owners are an intelligent and generally well-educated breed. Regardless of education, if you’re playing fantasy – you’re smart enough to do an auction. Try it. Once you do, you’ll never go back. Now, let’s get down to business.

Whether you’re building a team for multiple years in the Reality Sports Online Front Office format, or you’re laying it all on the line in a re-draft auction, there are a few guiding auction principles that can help you win your league. Building a great team via auction takes strategy, patience, discipline, and a knack for knowing when to break the rules. You can take some or all of the principles below and incorporate them into your auction strategy.

1.    Set your own pre-auction value for EVERY player (who is going to be purchased/signed for more than the minimum)

You may very well hate (in the fantasy sense) a player, because he’s overrated, injury prone, or because he plays for your team’s archrival. But, every player has some value to you. In an auction, you’re purchasing a player’s statistics. Every player’s value is relative to the cost associated with acquiring him. You might not want LeSean McCoy in 2015 as a Bill, and maybe you don’t expect DeMarco Murray to get enough touches with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles present, but you still need to be prepared to buy/sign them. There’s some price for every player at which you should be thrilled to acquire them. It doesn’t have to be an exact science for every player, but place a number on them where you’ll be happy with the purchase or signing. It’s a little tricky when you’re talking about a multi-year contract for Reality Sports Online, so in that case, just make sure you’re only giving guys that you’re “value-signing” a one-year contract. In 2015, I’m not excited about Matt Forte (or his real-life contract situation), Brandon Marshall (who can still play, but Geno-Fitz doesn’t excite me) or Drew Brees (it’s going to take a lot of C.J. Spiller screens & bubbles for a strong statistical year), but they’re all worth a below-market-price flier.

2.    Be the value enforcer

You’ll see as you read on that these principles are all similar, but while they’re all tied together and build on one another, they’re all distinct. Being the value enforcer is not a popular position in auctions. It’s best when you’ve got genuine multi-owner bidding wars for each player, but it’s not likely to happen for every player.  I generally like to sit back and wait in auctions for as long as possible (I never nominate a player I hope to land) before getting involved, but, in order to get value later in the auction, you have to make sure that owners are paying close to full price for top players. No matter what platform you use, the experts who assign the recommended values put a lot of time and effort into their analysis. Even if the values aren’t perfect, they’re in the right ballpark. Always make sure top players are going for at least 80% of their recommended value, and 90%+ if it’s a player on your fringe list. You can’t predict the order in which players will be nominated, so sometimes you’ll be forced to sign players early, but in general, I try to have more dollars remaining than at least half of the teams for the first half of the auction. In order to be able to get your value signings late, you need other teams to blow their wad early.

3.    Pay attention to other owner’s roster composition

Every auction is a puzzle. As every piece (or player) falls into place, the total picture becomes clearer, and it’s easier to place the remaining pieces. It’s important to take in all the context clues throughout the auction so you can deduct which owners might be genuinely interested in acquiring certain players/positions. Too many times fantasy owners laser-focus on their own team and goals and can’t see what’s unfolding in front of them. It can help to know when someone is just running up the price on you because they know you need a position. And, if you’re paying attention, you can do the same thing when you know other owners are desperate to acquire a certain position or player. Every extra dollar you force another owner to spend is a dollar you’re saving for yourself later.

4.    Let the auction come to you, don’t chase

Whether it’s a draft or an auction, it’s always important to have a strategy in place in advance (if it weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this!). For drafts, some fixate on getting X position in round 1 and Y players at X position by Z round. For auctions, many build positional budgets or allocations, and others say “I’m getting A, B, and C no matter what it costs”. Whatever strategy you enter the auction with, you have to be willing to deviate from it if the situation warrants a change of plans. Be flexible and willing to improvise. One of your top targets may have gone well over your budget, forcing you to bow out unexpectedly, or you may have acquired somebody you didn’t particularly want while enforcing value. Adapt and conquer. You don’t have to abandon your original strategy completely, but the more flexibility you have with your plan the more likely you’ll be able to find value.

5.    Seek & Find Value

In auction formats, particularly on the Reality Sports Online platform with multi-year contracts and guaranteed money, I’ve found that many experts like to employ a studs and duds strategy (most of the budget dedicated to a few “stud” players with the remainder spent filling out the roster with best available). With respect to multi-year contracts, that theory certainly has merit, and even in single-year auctions, many people can still make it work. I like to be contrarian when possible, though some would just call me stubborn. I’m a value guy. I love getting bargains on players. I get about as much joy as you could imagine getting a player for 50% off. Take a look at some of the 4-year contracts (each team gets one each year in standard settings) given out in my favorite fantasy league (the Matt Waldman Reality Sports Online Experts League; platform utilizes NFL Salary Cap):

First Name Last Name Pos Pro Team Age Contract Length Value
Cole Beasley WR DAL 26 4 $2M
Brock Osweiler QB DEN 25 4 $5M
Michael Floyd WR ARI 26 4 $13M
Nick Foles QB STL 26 4 $25M
T.Y. Hilton WR IND 26 4 $26.5M
Rueben Randle WR NYG 24 4 $29M
Emmanuel Sanders WR DEN 28 4 $36.5M


Sure, they’re not all major hits, but there are some deals in there that look awfully good heading into 2015. The point is, experts (and these are good ones) are willing to take a shot on value plays knowing they may strike out, and you should be willing to as well. I particularly consider myself a value-seeker when it comes to Quarterbacks. I’d rather sign QBs 12, 14, and 16 for a combined $20M per year hoping one cracks the top 8 rather than invest $25M for a “Top 5” QB and still need to figure out my backup situation. I like building deep rosters and trusting myself with tough start/sit decisions each week rather than having clear-cut starters and bench players, and that’s true across all positions.

6. It’s Okay to Pay a Premium

Even though I just spent the last few paragraphs preaching value, there are also times when it’s okay to pay a premium. At the beginning, I told you to set a value for EVERY player – the amount you’d be willing to acquire the player for and be “happy” with your signing. But, I also told you that you needed to be willing to improvise and adapt. If you get beyond your happy place budget on a player that you really like, spend an extra 5-10% and trust your instincts. Last year for me it was Antonio Brown. There was no expert magazine ranking or online resource assigning a value to him higher than my own – I was getting him no matter what it cost – and owned him in every league I participated in. I “overpaid” versus pre-season values and projections, but it ended up working out okay. I’ll also say, particularly in Reality Sports Online leagues, you can afford to overspend on 1-year deals, especially after the mid-point in the auction. There may not be a better place to put those dollars to use later in the auction, so pick your spot and be aggressive.

7. Don’t click mindlessly

With everything we’ve covered so far, this may seem like a silly principle to close with, but don’t underestimate it. Auctions are fun, action-packed, and making a bid/offer is exhilarating. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Clicking is addicting. Once the bidding starts, I just can’t help myself.” It’s true, it’s always more fun being in on the action, but you know what else is fun? Winning! Be careful quick-clicking, because somebody else may have put in a manual offer/bid, and you may have absentmindedly just blown a quarter of your budget on Trent Richardson. Our auction software has safeguards for protection, like offer-rejection when there are clicks milliseconds apart and your offer would have been $1M higher than you intended, and a rewind for egregious errors, but some Commissioners are ruthless dictators that make you sleep in the bed you’ve made. Once a player gets beyond your value-enforcer level, just stop clicking and let the other owners duke it out. Only harm can come from a meaningless click.

Matt Papson is the creator and co-founder of Reality Sports Online (www.realitysportsonline.com; @RealitySportsOn), an innovative fantasy Front Office platform that lets fantasy owners emulate the experience of an NFL General Manager. Prior to launching Reality Sports Online, Matt was formerly a Junior Salary Cap Analyst and Pro Personnel Intern for an NFL team. He’s passionate about football, entrepreneurship, pivot tables, golf, and the beach. You can follow him on Twitter @RealitySportsMP

More Analysis by Matt Papson