Lake Norman & Mooresville

Analytics bring life to fantasy sports

Davidson College math professor Tim Chartier and recent graduate Miles Abbett spent their summer creating an algorithm that will serve as the cornerstone for a new and growing fantasy sports website.

Chase Payne, the executive vice president for Major Leage Fantasy, recruited Chartier because of his reputation for accurately predicting the outcome of the NCAA Tournament games using math and analytics.

Major League Fantasy asked the duo to create an algorithm that better determines a player’s value, which is represented as an athlete’s annual salary. The algorithm allows fantasy players to judge the value of a sports figure, so they can decide whether to draft him onto their fantasy team.

Every online gaming site uses some sort of algorithm, but none stand out as superior at this point, but Payne said Chartier’s algorithm makes the gaming experience more user-friendly. These algorithms are key ingredients in making daily fantasy sports accessible to millions of players, Chariter and industry insiders say.

“Up to now, 70 percent of fantasy players have participated via the NFL,” said Chartier. “Daily fantasy changes this and could change this percentage on a huge level. As an industry, the daily fantasy space is new and is a hot field right now.”

Last year, more than 41 million people in North America played some form of fantasy sport, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Traditionally, fantasy sports players meet in small groups, hold drafts and must commit to players for an entire season.

Industry experts estimate roughly 1 million people play a daily fantasy sports, but those numbers are growing as word spreads about websites that offer daily fantasy sports play and algorithms like Chartier’s level the playing field for rookies and veterans alike.

Here’s how MLF’s daily fantasy site works: Each fantasy player creates a roster using players from an entire league. Players have a salary cap and draft players until all the positions are filled and the salary cap is reached. From there, different events, such as a tackle, an interception or touchdown, score different points.

Winners are determined at the end of the day or week, depending on the contest, unlike conventional fantasy sports, where winners are determined at the end of a season.

Chartier compares their efforts to the baseball analytics featured in the movie “Moneyball.”

“‘Moneyball’ (depicts) the team trying to use math and analytics to unearth insight to gain a competitive edge,” said Chartier. “Playing fantasy is a similar thing. You want to use stats and knowledge of players and teams – often captured through stats – to make up a roster. The trick, however, is everyone else is doing the same thing and it’s the players’ job to find a competitive edge.

Abbett, 22, a math major, served as an analytics consultant. He helped with analytics for the men’s basketball team while at Davidson and now works as the associate manager of basketball operations with the Chicago Bulls.

“We were tasked with creating an algorithm to fairly and consistently calculate the salaries of groups of athletes based on their recent and historical statistical performances,” said Abbett. “We unveiled a dozen or so versions of the algorithm until we felt that we had the most well-rounded formula capable of appealing to a wide audience. Our formula looks different than anything else on the market, and we are excited to see it in action.”

Alan Satterlee, the Fantasy Football Insider for the Observer and owner of Fantasy Football Warehouse, a website that offers rankings and analysis for fantasy football, thinks the daily fantasy model has potential.

“The two leading daily sites, FanDuel and DraftKings, have reported huge growth and revenue,” he said. “It makes sense. Fantasy football is wildly popular.”

The daily fantasy leagues could even create a new market, said Satterlee.

“The daily leagues offer the chance to not have to be stuck with a drafted team, and you have the flexibility to re-build your team … and outsmart the pricing and your competitors trying to do the same thing,” said Satterlee.

“All of this is predicated, of course, on the right pricing of players. As someone with a (doctorate) in applied analytics, I can see how critical an algorithm for pricing these players is – and how it needs to dynamically update, provide good market values, so to speak, but also be crafty enough to take future trends somehow into the equation.”

Karen Garrett, project manager for Norman Technologies, a consulting firm in Davidson, provided IT support, consultative services to build and launch MLF’s daily fantasy sports website.

“It’s really an innovative build on fantasy sports playing, with integration across a broad variety of social media,” she said.