How To Run An Office Pool

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NCAA College Football Pool

Project Runway 5 Pool

Or see all available pools

Thinking of running an office pool for a sporting or Reality TV event and want to make it a huge success. Follow the tips on this page to maximize the enjoyment of everyone playing.

Deciding On The Pool

Most importantly, choose a topic you and your friends care about. Pools can greatly enhance a Reality TV show, making it almost interactive. And caring about which team wins the big games on TV this weekend really make them more enjoyable. But if you set up a pool on a Reality TV show you would normally not watch, it becomes a chore to get your picks in each week. But almost anything can have an office pool. Popular pools include:

  • NFL Football (probably the most popular office pool - weekly pools, playoff pools, and the Superbowl)
  • College Football - either regular season or bowls
  • College Basketball (March Madness)
  • NBA Basketball (usually the playoffs)
  • MLB Baseball (usually the playoffs)
  • NHL Hockey (usually the playoffs)
  • Reality TV Shows (Survivor, Amazing Race, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Big Brother, etc. Anything with a weekly elimination)
  • The Oscars
  • Politics
  • Baby pools (actually the 2nd most popular - when the baby will be born, what the sex will be, how much it will weigh, etc.)

An interesting office pool survey.

Choosing How To Run Your Pool

There are a large number of options on running a pool, from paper and pencil, to Excel spreadsheets, to software, to websites. Since pools by their nature require many people to input information (either a one time pick or weekly picks, depending upon the pool), the best way to run a pool is via a website. This greatly reduces the load on the person running the pool (the commissioner) and avoids using company emails for personal usage. Pros and cons of each type are shown in the table below:

Pool Method Pros Cons
Paper and Pencil
  • Cheap
  • Easy for simple pools (10x10 grid)
  • Doesn't work for complicated pools
  • Subject to errors
  • No communication to pool members
  • No automatic features
  • Labor intensive
Excel Spreadsheet
  • Cheap
  • Can handle more complicated pools
  • Flexibility on how the pool is scored
  • Labor intensive
  • No automatic features
  • No communication to pool members
  • Handles many automatic features
  • Easier on the commissioner
  • Possible cost
  • May be limited in how the pool is scored
  • May not be networked for easy pick entry
  • May not be available for the pool you want to run
  • Handles many automatic features
  • Networked - so greatly reduces the load on the commissioner
  • Easy communication with pool members
  • Possible cost (many web pools cost about $1/person)
  • May be limited in how the pool is scored
  • May not be available for the pool you want to run

Of course, we recommend setting up and running your pool on Fun Office It has the following features to make running your pool a snap:

  • It's completely free
  • Easy invitations to your friends
  • Remembers who you have invited and keeps an address book for you - very handy if you plan to run more than one pool with similar people
  • Automatic reminders sent to people who opt for that feature
  • A wide variety of pools available - sports, Reality TV, the Oscars
  • The pools are private - set up just for you and your friends
  • Private "trash talk" forums
  • Default picks for all pools - so if you miss a week, you're not out of the action
  • Automatic scoring and updating - once you set your pool up and invite your friends, there's not a lot of work left to do - just play along
  • Flexible options to customize your pool

Setting Up The Pool

After deciding on the pool and how you will run it, you need to decide on the pool parameters. How will you determine who wins the pool? This depends heavily on what type of pool you are running. Common methods of determining the winner include:

  • A points system - each week players earn points based on accurately predicting outcomes. This is the most common method of running a pool.
  • An elimination pool - players continue to play until this miss a prediction - last man standing is the winner
  • A single choice wins - if there are a finite amount of outcomes, everyone in the pool may get one or more of those outcomes. Whoever owns the outcome that occurs is the winner (this is common in Superbowl grid pools).

Key things to remember when setting up the pool:

  • In a points pool, give more points towards the end of a pool - try to keep as many people in the pool as long as possible. This is harder to do in an elimination pool, but for other pools, if you increase the points you can earn at the end of a pool, then more people feel they are in it and will continue to participate.
  • Don't make it too complicated. Most people are playing office pools for fun -- don't make it work.
  • Don't make it too simple. While the desire to keep it simple is good, don't overdue it. Just picking the Superbowl champ at the beginning of the NFL season doesn't make for a compelling office pool - pick once and forget about it pools are boring. The goal is to make the pool a social event, and having something to do each week keeps the pool moving forward. If the pool only has one outcome each week (i.e, who gets voted of Survivor), consider adding bonus questions to spice up the pool (i.e., who gets immunity, which team will win the immunity challenge, will the vote be unanimous except for the person who gets voted off, etc.).
  • Don't be stingy with points. More points are better than less points. A pool that gives only 1 point a week for getting the answer right will have a lot of frustrated people who score 0 each week. People like to think they are making progress. Give lots of points. This helps a lot on avoiding ties at the end of the pool as well.
  • Speaking of ties, make sure you have some method to break ties at the end of the pool.
  • Publish the rules to your pool so your pool members are clear about how they can win the pool.
  • Have a formula for default picks for your pool. If you are running a pool with picks required every week, people WILL forget to get their picks in. We highly recommend you have a method to assign default picks for those people who forget to get their picks in. Otherwise, once they miss once or twice, they'll be so far out of the lead they'll drop out of the pool completely. Sample default picks could be - the favorite in a football game, or the home team in a football game, or you could make the default picks each week and publicize what the default picks are at the beginning of the week. Of course, the easiest way to handle default picks is to run your pool on Fun Office Pools. com and have the website automatically select defaults.

Inviting People To Your Pool

Play These Pools Now!

NCAA College Football Pool

Project Runway 5 Pool

Or see all available pools

You've decided on your pool, you've set up the pool parameters, now it's time to get people to your pool. This part is pretty obvious, but a couple of points:

  • If you are using company email to invite people to your pool, make sure this is within the guidelines of your company's email policy (it's probably not). It would probably be better to use people's personal email accounts (gmail, etc.). Additionally, most companies email policies state they own all the email so watch what you say in your emails - starting a pool to predict how long before the CEO is sacked by the board is probably not something you want to do on company email.
  • Be prepared to remind people multiple times to join the pool. Most people do not immediately join a pool and may require several invitations before they join. Fun Office Pools. com has features that show you who has joined your pool in your address book, so it makes it very easy to resend an invitation to the people who haven't gotten around to joining. My experience is that a few emails are required to get most people to join - they want to participate, but signing up isn't a big priority. So be persistent here.
  • Collect any money from people BEFORE the pool starts, if possible. If you decide to run a pool with a cash prize (but first, check out the legality of doing this - see Legal Issues below), try and collect the money as soon as people sign up. And keep really good records about who has paid and who hasn't. This part of running a pool has always been the biggest hassle for me - tracking down people and collecting the money. Do it before the pool starts so you don't end up at the end of the pool short on the prize fund and not knowing who has paid and who hasn't.

Running Your Pool

Depending upon your pool and how you set up your pool, this can be very difficult or very easy. Most of these comments are relevant for the Points system type of pool with weekly inputs (NFL Regular Season, all the Reality TV pools, etc.) If you're using pen and paper or Excel, you need to find out what the outcomes were, enter them into your pool record keeping section, calculate the points earned, add them to everyone's score, calculate the standings, and report the results to your pool members. If you are using default picks, you need to assign the default picks for the next week. If you are using software or a website, most if not all of these things are done for you automatically - the website will likely update the results, while if using software you will likely have to enter your own results, but the rest should be automatic.

Legal Issues

Generally whether an office pool is legal or not depends upon the state you are in, so you may need to do a little research. Generally, if you're just playing for pride, it's legal. Only when money is involved does the legality of the pool become an issue. Again, depending upon the state, whether or not all the money put into the pool is paid out, or whether a cut is taken can determine the legality. The amount of money put into the pool will probably affect whether authorities do anything. A high stakes pool will definitely garner more attention and more likely be reported (by perhaps a disgruntled member of the pool) than a pool among friends with $5 or $10 per person entry fees.

Besides the legality, you need to be aware of your company's policy on running office pools. Some companies forbid them, others look the other way, and still others encourage them. If you are going to do any of this on the company's time or resources, it would be wise to find out your company's policy towards office pools. A safer alternative would be to do this outside of the company and not to use the corporate email addresses. Like most things - common sense rules here. Do it in an unobtrusive manner and most companies won't care. In fact, in this office pool survey, no one (0%) ever reported getting in trouble with a boss for being in an office pool.

Summing Up

Running an office pool is a lot of fun, and most people who participate in them really enjoy them. Hopefully these tips will help you run more enjoyable office pools. If you do run pools, check out Fun Office Pools. com and see just how easy it is to run an office pool.


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