What Real Football Coaches—And All Of Us—Can Learn From Fantasy League Players

For starters: Stop trusting your gut, and go with the reams of data from services like ScoutPro. "Some guys have their own spreadsheets," co-creator Diane Bloodworth says. "This is very common, to get all the data they can to get that edge to win."

Diane Bloodworth is one of the creators of ScoutPro, an analytics service that will help you improve your fantasy football team. The service is $19.95 per season; there’s a lite version available for $12.95. We caught up with Bloodworth to learn more about the growing fantasy sports industry—valued by some at well over $1 billion, and ScoutPro alone has some 100 competitors—and how fantasy football junkies may be even more data-forward than the professionals.

FAST COMPANY: Some readers may not know what fantasy football is or how it works exactly. Can you explain it?

DIANE BLOODWORTH: Fantasy football allows you to go online and draft players and decide each week who’s going to start on your team. You form a league with your friends and co-workers. Before the season starts, everyone drafts players. There’s a contest each week to see who gets the most points, and whoever has the most points at the end—most leagues go 16 weeks—wins. These guys—and they’re predominantly men, though there are more and more women—are very competitive. Their average age is 36, and their average income is $90,000. They’ll pay $500 to win a $100 pot for bragging rights.

What’s the gender breakdown?

I think it’s still about 80-85% male. I formed a women’s league, and try to encourage more women to participate.

Is your women’s league super competitive?

We do a little trash-talking when someone does better than someone else during the week. We call it Chick’s Picks.

What is your fantasy football analytics product, ScoutPro?

There’s a lot of data out there. We take the statistical data that’s available, set up some rules and parameters in the software, run all this through some algorithms, and we come up with a fantasy point prediction each week for a player.

Are there any fantasy football purists who think they should trust their gut rather than rely on algorithms—like this is a form of juicing?

No, no, this is very common now. Some guys have their own spreadsheets. This is very common, to get all the data they can to get that edge to win.

Is what you do similar to what Billy Beane did in “Moneyball”?

Seven years ago I was in a class on entrepreneurship, and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could help actual coach’s game plans? I initially developed this for football coaches, but I couldn’t get them to bite. So I did, as they say, a pivot, and I decided to go after fantasy sports.

Are fantasy football fans more technologically forward than many of the actual teams?

I would say they’re more progressive about using data. At least at the college football level, they don’t use data at this level. The guys playing fantasy sports are out in the business world. They’re used to all this data and analysis to make decisions. I’m not sure the coaches are there yet. It’s just a different perspective and mindset. I really believe that data and analysis are going to become a much bigger part of sports across the board—team sports, individual sports, and fantasy sports.

You used to work in air traffic control, and joke that the data problem you work on now is harder. Is that true?

That’s true. Every player has skills at their position. For a quarterback, passing accuracy is a key skill. Then you have to weigh that in terms of importance. You also look at arm strength, for instance. Then you don’t just look at an individual player, you look at a team. If Quarterback A’s best wide receiver is out this week, we’re gonna lower his ratings. We also look at how certain players match up against other teams. All these different calculations go into our final projection.

When did you first fall in love with football?

I grew up in the South, and we like our football in the South. I can’t remember when I didn’t love football.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

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