A Note to my email subscribers

First of all, thank you! It’s really wonderful to have an audience for the work I’m doing. I hope that you have been enjoying the writing and finding the content useful.

As you may notice from the slight change in format, I’ve switched the software I’m using to send out these emails from Feedburner to Mailchimp. From now on, you shouldn’t get anything from Feedburner. If there’s any issues with this, let me know at dearsportsfan@gmail.com. My goal is to eventually offer more options: full text or digest and daily or weekly at least. I’m also going to try to split out the morning Cue Cards from everything else so that you can get those before work every day if you’d like.

Again, thanks so much for subscribing. I’m working on lots of exciting new features, so watch out for that in the next couple months. Until then, keep your ear to the grindstone and please, forward this to your friends and family who are or who live with a sports fan!

-Ezra

Dear Sports Fan is (kinda) working!

Now that I’m writing this blog close to full time, it’s more important than ever that it actually serves its purpose of helping non-sports fans or casual sports fans navigate our sports obsessed culture. I’ve had a few nice moments of confirmation this week that I thought I would share with you.

A former colleague of mine at Return Path emailed me to say she was about to do her first fantasy football draft and to ask for help preparing. When I sent her the two Dear Sports Fan posts on the topic, “How to enjoy a fantasy football draft?” and “What are some tips for your first fantasy football draft?” she said she had already read those! What other advice did I have for her? In response to a related post I wrote recently on “Why are fantasy football drafts so exciting?“, a college classmate of mine wrote on Facebook, “I just started to accept that it was knowledge that I’d never attain, until I read your article!” Awesome! 

I’m confident that if Dear Sports Fan content can help and interest a readership made up of mostly friends, family, and former colleagues, it would be interesting and helpful to a wider group if I can get it out to them. The other side of the site’s traffic is the small but consistent number of people who, in curiosity or frustration, go to their phones or computers and type a question about sports into google. Here’s a glimpse into some of the questions they asked yesterday that they found an answer to on Dear Sports Fan:

9.4.14 Dear Sports Fan searches

It’s so cool to be a reference for random people around the world who are wondering about sports. Also about my college friend Puya, whose name must appear somewhere on the site. Huh!

Why I'm Quitting my Job and What's Next

Ezra Fischer
I’m off into the unknown

Today I’m using Dear Sports Fan to share a major moment in my life. I’m celebrating my thirty-second birthday and my final day working at Return Path. After seven and a half years working at the same company, I’ve decided to launch myself into the unknown.
Rather than work a regular 9-to-5, I’ll be working on three ventures: Dear Sports Fan, Fantasy Blend, and Fish for Metrics. Each project reflects an aspect of myself that I want to explore. Each is scary and exciting in its own right and seeing the three together elicits an intimidating and exhilarating jumble of emotions for me. Let me tell you a little bit about the projects.

Project 1: Dear Sports Fan

I’m planning to throw myself into Dear Sports Fan close to full time. I started this website three years ago as a way to explain myself as a sports fan to the many non-sports fans in my life. I pretty quickly realized that the better mission was to try to help non-sports fans live in harmony with the sports-obsessed mainstream, and I’ve noticed that sports fans enjoy it too. I guess even we sports fans are curious to know more about how offside rules relate from sport to sport or how to understand and cope with the playoff beard. I’m excited to devote myself to this project more completely and experiment with creating other resources to help people negotiate sports in everyday life. It would be a wonderful show of support if you signed up for the email list and shared the site with your friends and family.

Project 2: Fantasy Blend

I’m also going to be working on an idea that’s rattled around in my brain for the last few years. I love fantasy sports but when I play them, they cannibalize my brain so that I don’t have space for much else. I don’t have time to think about other things I enjoy, like music, literature, food, television, and politics. If only I could play a fantasy game with all of those topics… Well, it doesn’t exist, so I’ll just have to build it! Introducing Fantasy Blend, the fantasy game of all pursuits for all people. I’ve already started making progress on this idea, so you can sign up now to be a beta Fantasy Blend owner soon.

Project 3: Fish for Metrics

Lastly, I’m going to try to take the heart of what I loved about my work at Return Path and do a little Salesforce reporting consulting under the name Fish for Metrics. I’ll be helping companies who are struggling to get the reporting they need out of Salesforce but don’t want to plunk the money down to buy a fancy Business Intelligence tool.

Be a Part of the Celebration and the Adventure

This feels like a crazy thing to do. I had great times at Return Path and learned so much from my team, mentors, and colleagues, during my time there. As someone who loves stability, it was almost a perfect fit. But as time went on, I found myself thinking more about the “almost” than the perfect. The stability of my career, matched with my own predilection for stability, had me feeling trapped and static. In the past couple years, I’ve had trouble feeling excited and I’ve not felt like I was learning new things.

So, yes, I know that the consulting game, the sports blogging game, and the fantasy game game are all brutal markets where new entrants are often eaten up like raisins glued to celery with extra crunchy peanut butter. It’s okay! It’s important for me to try and to risk failure right now. Sure, I’ll learn a lot about writing and promoting and advertising and web design and game design and customer discovery and entrepreneurship and networking and nurturing business partnerships and a ton of other things. But even more importantly, I’m hoping to remember how to feel excited. I want to remember how to be a beginner and how to learn. I don’t want to shy away from the impossible anymore.

You can help!

My biggest fear in leaping off this particular cliff is that I risk sliding into social isolation from working by myself so much. I’m going to do my best to stay organized and to reach out to friends and family to talk on the phone, see each other for a drink (maybe I’ll have to learn to drink coffee), or share a meal. So, stay in touch, however you can.

Of course, I’d love to have you as a subscriber, beta fantasy owner, or client, too. Sign up for Dear Sports Fan’s email list or ask a question! Join the waiting list for Fantasy Blend. Or hire me or refer me as a consultant at Fish for Metrics.

One of my favorite children’s books is Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. It’s about siblings who have adventures camping and sailing on their own. Before they leave, they telegraph their father, who is serving in the Navy, to get his permission. His response: If not duffers,[1] will not drown. If duffers, better off drowned.

It’s time for me to go sailing. I hope to see you on my way,
Ezra

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. modern translation: incompetent, internet translation: noob

A Sporting Sabbatical

Ez DoorwayThis is an unusual post. For the last three years, I’ve been exploring and explaining the sports world mostly from my couch. But starting next week, and for a month after that, I’m going to be taking Dear Sports Fan on the road. Being able to go on the road for a month is pretty unusual too. I’m lucky enough to be reaching my seven year anniversary of working at Return Path, and one of the great features of working there is that seven years of service earns you a six week sabbatical. I’m using mine to take a vacation to the Mediterranean, and hopefully to the Olympics. I’ll be flying into Barcelona, moseying up around the coast to Northern Italy, somehow zipping over to Istanbul, and flying over to Sochi. While it’s true that the news about safety at the Olympics has recently seemed quite dire, I am hopeful that the world’s fears will prove to be unfounded and I will do my best to make an informed and cautious decision about whether to attend.

I don’t speak much Spanish, or any Italian, French, Turkish, or Russian but I do speak the universal language of sports. So if you follow this blog, and I hope you do by email, Facebook, Twitter, or RSS, get ready for a month’s worth of posts about watching Bobsled in Barcelona, Figure Skating in Florence, and if all goes well, Ice Hockey in Sochi!

Best wishes,
Ezra

Super Bowl Prep Talk, Part Three: A Beginner's Guide to Football Betting

In this series, Dear Sports Fan will try to prepare non-sports fans and sports fans alike to converse knowledgeably during this Sunday’s Super Bowl parties. Super Bowl Sunday is probably the day when the most non-sports fans gather in front of televisions and mingle with their sport loving friends and family. In Part One-A and One-B of this series, we covered some of the key story-lines and plot points around the game. We also had a special post on Super Bowl party behavior written by one non-fan for others. This post will cover a few of the most common ways people gamble on the Super Bowl.


As Lisa wrote in her post on Super Bowl party behavior, Super Bowl Sunday is the day when the most people who don’t normally watch football watch a football game. Likewise it is a day when many, many people who don’t normally gamble on football have at least a few dollars riding on the game. Even if you don’t choose to gamble today, many of your friends and family will. There is likely to be almost 100 million dollars bet on the game legally in Vegas, and that’s just if you want to be legal about it. Here’s a quick explanation of the four most common types of bets that they’ll be making.

Betting the Line

This is the most common form of football betting. You’ve probably heard someone say that a football team is “favored by three points” or is a “ten point underdog.” This is where those phrases and figures come from. A sports book in Vegas will “set a line” for a game and then bettors will gamble on either side of that line. The easiest way to think of a line is to remember that for an actual sports game, the line is ALWAYS at zero. Whichever team wins by even as little as one point wins the game. In the world of the bet, that’s not the case. The betting line is adjusted in favor of one team or the other so that in order to win the bet, you need a team to win by more than a certain number of points. We’ll get to why the line is set where it is in a few paragraphs.

In today’s game, San Fransisco is favored by four points (somewhat confusingly expressed as “San Fransisco -4.”) This means that people who bet on San Fransisco need them to win by more than four points to win (also called “cover”) their bet. People who bet on Baltimore can cover even if Baltimore loses by up to three points. Knowing this may help you make sense of why people will sometimes seem incredibly engaged in the game at odd times.

Betting the Over/Under

This is a very common form of football line betting. When someone bets the over/under they are making a prediction about what the combined scores of the two teams will be. Basically, you need to predict whether the game will be high or low scoring. The over/under for today’s game is 48 points. If you bet on the over, you’re predicting that the combined score of the two teams will add up to more than 48; the under, less.

A quick note on lines (because the over/under is another form of line betting) and the logic of how they are set. The underlying principle of any type of gambling, is that the “house” (the entity that people bet against,) because they take a small fee on every transaction will always make money if they can balance the amount bet on both sides of a line (half on the under, half on the over; half on San Fransisco -4, half on Baltimore +4.) The house effectively pays the winners of a bet with the money they get from the losers. The only time the house can lose is if they take more winning bets than losing bets.

As you might expect, Vegas is freakishly good at balancing the bets. So, you would think that the combined score of the game is most likely to be what the line says it is, 48, but there are two things that qualify this. First — some bets are more “fun” than others — the public tends to enjoy betting an over more than an under, so the over/under will often be a little bit higher than Vegas thinks the combined scores will be. Second, well, the people who set the lines have chosen to work in Vegas. Sometimes they like to gamble a bit too.

Buying a Super Bowl Box

The Super Bowl Box is the most casual form of Super Bowl betting. You’ve probably taken part in one yourself! You make a ten by ten grid, put your name in a box, and pay someone a few bucks. After all hundred boxes are filled out someone randomly assigns a number from 0 to 9 to each row and column on the chart. Each box therefore represents a pair of one digit numbers like 4 and 7. These numbers correspond to the ones digit of the score of the teams at particular moments of the game — usually at the end of each quarter. If your numbers come up, say San Fransisco 14, Baltimore 7 (or 27) at halftime, you win a bunch of money.

This is gambling at it’s most pure. Unlike the previous two forms of betting, you don’t get to make any decisions at all. When you scribble your name on a box and put in your money, you are spending 1/100 of all the money involved for a 1/100 chance to win. As soon as they assign numbers to boxes, your chances have either gone up or down as you can see from this awesome “sucky box-o-meter.”

Making a Prop Bet

Prop bets are another form of betting that thrives during the Super Bowl. Prop is short for proposition (as you probably know from The Wire) and these bets are all about answering questions that ask “will something happen today?” These are incredibly fun to bet on, and as you might imagine because of that, are usually difficult to win. Most of these are about the game, but a good number of them are about the spectacle surrounding the game. There are two good articles on Grantland.com about this, one by a football analyst and one by a gambling comedy writer. Here are just a few of the bets they cover:

Will there be overtime?
Will the largest lead of the game be more or less than 14 points?
Will Vonta Leach (a guy on the Ravens who almost never gets to touch the ball) score the first touchdown?
Will the opening coin toss be heads?
Will Alicia Keys’ rendition of the national anthem be longer than 2:15?

That last one is ridiculous but I’d be willing to bet that someone at your Super Bowl party has their eyes on their watch while she’s singing. Look around and let me know.

Enjoy the party and the game,
Ezra Fischer

 

Come the fall, when the NFL is back in full swing and college football, playoff baseball, and the NHL are holding up their end of the bargain, this rating may be seen as a little bit inflated. For mid-summer though, this is a pretty sports filled day.

Soccer: Starting with 9 a.m. this morning, there are a series of good soccer games on today. The NY Red Bull play a French team PSG in London, there’s a full slate of MLS games, and then at 7 p.m. ESPN2 is showing a friendly between Manchester United and Barcelona, two of the best 5 teams in the world.

Baseball: Fox has a bunch of games this afternoon including another Cubs vs Cardinals game, Angels vs Tigers, and Devil Rays vs Mariners. The Mariners are coming off a record 17 game losing streak.

X Games: These are still happening. ABC will be getting in on the skateboarding action basically all afternoon.

Golf: CBS continues is quest to be the best network for geriatrics by showing something called the Greenbriar Classic today. The golf tournament might be livened up a bit by putting a hole in the no-longer secret bunker that was meant to house Congress in the event of a nuclear holocaust… but it probably won’t be.

Enjoy this month of mostly green. With the NFL out of its labor dispute and the country about to hit the ceiling, soon all we’ll have is sports!

Baseball: The biggest game of the day feels like it’s the Chicago Cubs playing their rival the St. Louis Cardinals. This is an illusion. It’s not a big game, the Cubs are a terrible 42 – 63![1] What is behind it feeling like a big game? Well, the Cubs are something of a public team because they play in Wrigley field which everyone loves because it’s old and covered with ivy, they have an easily understood plot,[2] and because their local television station, WGN is a superstation so their games were on basic TV when you were a kid and no one had cable.

Football: The CFL (Canadian Football League) is back and plays two games tonight — Montreal at Hamilton and Toronto at Edmonton. You might remember from the post we did explaining downs that football in the U.S. has four downs per possession. The CFL plays with only three downs per possession, proving once again that regardless of the exchange rate, everything in Canada is 3/4 as good as in the United States.

If you don’t know what these color[3] things mean, read the key for TMI.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. 42 wins, 63 losses so far in the interminable baseball 162 game season
  2. They haven’t won a championship in 102 years. In 1945 they offended a tavern owner by asking him to remove his goat for the stadium. He responded by cursing the team and despite various attempts to exorcize this curse, the Cubs have not been to a World Series since.
  3. “colour” for our Canadian friends… what? we don’t have any Canadian friends anymore?

Right, so — I am not into the X Games but they do start today. I can see that if your sports fan is into Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Waterboarding,[1] surfing, or BMX, then he or she will probably be glued to the television tonight.

Baseball: The Pittsburgh Pirates play the Atlanta Braves again tonight for the third day in a row. Two nights ago they played into the 19th inning. That’s more than two times longer than a normal game! Last night their game only went into the 10th inning. It’s become a compelling run, so be aware of that if your fan is prone to interest in exciting baseball. The baseball trade deadline (last day in the season a team can trade a player) is coming up in a few days which also drives interest in the sport.

Soccer: The slew of interesting international friendlies continues with Juventus vs. Chivas Guadalajara tonight at 8:00 p.m.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. not waterboarding

It’s like the Bermuda triangle of sports these days. We’re stuck in the doldrums!

Baseball: blah blah blah blah.

Tennis: Okay — this is a new one. There are several tennis tournaments going on today: The ATP Studena Croatia Open, the WTA Tour Bank of the West Classic, the ATP Farmers Classic, and the WTA Mid-Atlantic. None of these are a big deal though, they are early warm ups for the U.S. Open which starts at the end of August.

Soccer: Another set of warm-ups, this time for the European league seasons which start in mid-August. Today’s premier match is a friendly between the Italian team Juventus and the Mexican team Club America which is on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m..

Football: As you might have heard, a deal has been reached in the NFL lockout. What this means for you is that there will now be a mindlessly extreme amount of hours of people TALKING about football on television. Last night ESPN spent three prime-time hours talking about football. There will be more today. At 10 a.m. teams will officially be allowed to start negotiating with free-agents. Rumor, speculation, and obsession will rule the day! See if you can convince your fan that these three horsemen are largely non-visual and therefore need not dominate the television.

Wow!

According to sportsnetwork.com which is where I’ve been getting most of my sports television scheduling information from… there is NO sports on TV today except for Baseball. A green day indeed.

Baseball: It seems like the marquee matchup of the day is the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Atlanta Braves. At least that’s what our ESPN overlords have decreed. The Atlanta Braves have been famous for having won their division 14 times in a row and only winning the World Series once. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been famous for having had 18 consecutive losing seasons — a record in any U.S. sports league. Also they had a guy named Doc Ellis who claims to have thrown a no-hitter (pitching a whole baseball game without ever letting the other team get a hit) while on LSD. Time magazine ran an article about this with a really nifty animated video to go along with Doc’s description of the day which I recommend watching. Recently A.J. Daulerio of deadspin.com tried to recreate this on the newest baseball video game.