Scoring Big: From DraftKings to Data Science

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After gambling and winning big on professional athletes in fantasy football, Mark Coup is now betting on himself. Last winter, Coup raked in more than $20,000 from a DraftKings Pro Bowl and Super Bowl tournament. He’s decided to put a portion of those winning toward tuition for the Galvanize Data Science program. Here, he plans to grow the nascent love of analytics that brought him glory in fantasy sports into marketable skills that will translate into a career in the real world.

Interestingly, Coup’s previous career was music. He was a drummer and classically-trained percussionist played everything from Chopin to Rage Against the Machine. Throughout high school, he joined every band or ensemble he could find—rock, jazz, salsa—and he went on to earn degrees in performance from Colorado St. (Bachelors) and the University of Miami (Masters).

When we think of musicians, we typically envision creatives, artists. And to a degree, Coup fit that mold. He loved the art of music—the sentiment and the expression, the primal human connection to the beat, the pulse. However, the discipline also stimulated the left side of his brain. After all, when you break it down, music is essentially math. Particularly the meter. “A lot of 20th Century composers and percussion writers use mathematical techniques,” says Coup. “I’ve always loved the combination of emotional and intellectual aspects of music.”

But when Coup left school to become a music teacher and performing professional, he became frustrated. He discovered that making music his full-time occupation sucked the fun out of his childhood passion. So he quit. He started selling life insurance but found that unfulfilling as well. “I wanted more out of life,” he says. “I wanted to explore something else on the intellectual side. It wasn’t stimulating me intellectually.”

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While the 27-year-old Coup was trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life, he occupied his left brain with fantasy football. For Coup, football had always been more of a hobby. He had grown up in Brighton, Colorado, just outside of Denver, in the 1990s, and he had rooted for John Elway as the quarterback finally led the hometown Broncos to Super Bowl glory. Even back then, Coup played fantasy football in small, minimal-cash leagues with friends. But it was mostly just for fun. Now he saw how Big Data had completely transformed the game. Fantasy owners were mining mountains of advanced metrics and statistics to build and tailor their rosters and playing them in big-money games and online tournaments.

Coup took to the web and located a handful of reliable analysts’ sites and a few line-up building algorithms, and then started buying in. While traditional fantasy was built on yearly drafts of teams that would last all season, Coup saw the bigger challenge (and reward) in daily fantasy, in which owners put together new teams every week. He soon learned that the secret to daily fantasy was managing his bankroll, so he balanced head-to-head matchups (lower payouts, but better odds) with entry into bigger tournaments (longer odds). “It’s like stock trading,” he says. “You don’t put allocate all your funds to one stock.”

One of those tournaments was the DraftKings January-February 2016 event, the last fantasy tournament of the season, covering the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl. Coup dove into research and focused on the tight ends, who, he learned, tend to get the most touches in the red zone and thus, most of the touchdowns during the Pro Bowl. That strategy, combined with his hometown Broncos defense stymying the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, was wildly successful. Ten of Coup’s lineup entries placed in the money, three in the Top 10, including the big prize: $20,000 cash. “Going into the Super Bowl, I knew I was set up pretty well,” he says. “It was a coin toss: You never really know what’s going to happen. I didn’t look at my phone to check my stats the entire game.” But when time expired, Coup pulled up his app and saw that he, along with his Denver Broncos, had won it all. “All hell broke loose in Denver, Colorado,” he says. “It was one of the greatest days of my life.”

Once the buzz of victory wore off, Coup started to consider what he might do with his jackpot. He says one thought was to take a long vacation. But he kept thinking about his future. “I wanted to use the money to invest in something that’s going to pay dividends later in my life,” he says.

Then he thought back to a conversation he’d had with an old musician friend over beers a couple months earlier. The friend had quit teaching music for the same reasons Coup had, but had enrolled in Galvanize’s boot camp for Web Development. He told Coup about the Data Science program. And it all made sense.

Weeks into the intensive three-month training, Coup says he hasn’t had much time for fantasy football—though he’s considering it as a topic for his capstone. But while he suspects that Galvanize Data Science will only help his future fantasy GM efforts, the ultimate goal is getting a foothold in the local tech scene and finding a job and a career that will pay off big.

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