Sports betting is not yet live in Maryland, but soon Marylanders will be able to bet at retail sportsbooks across the state and on their mobile devices.
When that time comes, Marylanders will surely look for advice on what team to bet on in a football game, for example. SharpRank, a mobile app that rates the experts on their performance with a proprietary algorithm, is a tool sports fans can turn to for help when deciding whose advice to follow.
SharpRank was co-founded by UMBC graduate Chris Adams. The 35-year-old recently spoke with Stan “The Fan” Charles and Gary Stein about why he created Baltimore-based SharpRank, how bettors can use the app and more. Here’s some of what he had to say. Check out the full interview at PressBoxOnline.com/video.
This has been edited for content and clarity.
PressBox: What prompted you to create SharpRank?
Chris Adams: What ended up happening was we were driving home from the beach, one of my partners and me. We heard a commercial come on the radio with a guy who [made picks]. If people are talented and want to sell their picks, great, but to then guarantee people money on top of it? I come from investment banking. My partner comes from financial advising. We had to go through a very stringent compliance to publicly say we’re investment bankers. I was sitting there thinking, “Man, I would get blacklisted from my industry if I was going to do something like this.” So we went looking for the oversight, the third party, that Morningstar, the CARFAX, the LEED certification for building. Every industry has our equivalent, and we didn’t find anything. So we just said, “We’ll do it.” We’re the ratings agency. We’re the first and only ratings agency for sports bettors.
PB: When you got the idea, were you aware of how much steam legalized sports betting had picked up across the country?
CA: I stay very close to the market and the pulse of it because I’m always fascinated by new industries. Every day I see an innovative approach to something in sports betting, and I find it fascinating to watch that explosion of ideas and talent that gets pulled from everywhere else into a new industry. That being said, because we’re not a sports betting platform, we operate globally. We operate in all 50 states. Regardless of whether you place a bet or not or can in your state, we are an information source, very similar to a Morningstar or some other rating service out there in the market. We kind of live and die by the motto of, “When there’s a gold rush, you don’t go digging. You sell shovels.” We service the market. So as it grows, the service capabilities grow for us. We don’t make picks. We don’t have content. We have a very smart algorithm, but it’s used for ranking people. I would do it all over again regardless of the expansion of sports betting.
PB: Let’s say I want to bet on Maryland football. Can I use your app to look up who is giving information on Maryland football and who is doing the best?
CA: Yup, absolutely. There’s a search and a filter. On our mobile app, when you land you land on a trending page, which looks a lot like a social media platform, it has likes, shares, follows, et cetera. You just go up to the corner, you search Terps and every bit of curated data science that we have on the Terps and [that] we have publicly showing becomes your list. Or you can just follow the Terps and anyone who is making picks on them will start to show up in your mobile app. That’s what’s really neat. … Our algorithm takes all of that pick data and runs it through our formula, and out the other side comes five, four and three stars. It takes into account hundreds of different metrics to figure out who is consistently good, and we do that in a cross-sport manner. So if [one person] picks every Maryland Terps football game, and [another person] picks one 5,000-to-1 horse race every year, you’re normalized on the same leaderboard.
PB: You did an interview with Jim Cramer and Bill Enright from Bull Market Fantasy. You talked about how the people you found to be really good weren’t trying to hide from letting people know that. Why is that?
CA: That was one of our biggest question marks going into this. If you’ve never received a report card, why let us into the market? This works really well for a select group of people. What we found was a majority of people really want the transparency, whether they’re SharpRank and their rating is good, bad or five, four, three stars, they just want what we provide, which is very similar to a blue checkmark on Twitter. “Hey, I am a credible source of information. You’re not going to get sold snake oil when you subscribe to my picks or when you look at the rest of my stuff. I’m honest, I’m accountable, et cetera.” We had some great, great market adoption early on by people who were like, “Bring it on. I welcome that market transparency.” We think it’ll continue.
PB: Do you need permission from handicappers to publish what their records are?
CA: No, because a lot of them post picks with our platform. That’s a big part of what we do by validating it. We started by logging tens of thousands of lines in Excel manually from any source we could find — time stamping, checking the lines and then auditing to make sure this is what they actually posted, this was the actual result. Does that percentage that they’re showing actually tie back to that? Because of our market adoption, we’ve had media outlets approach us about having their people being listed. We created something called a SharpCard, which is the back of a baseball card meets a stock performance chart. It’s everything you need to know about that [handicapper] all in one place. They can leverage that at a paywall to say, “Hey, I’m going to show you two and hide eight, but what’s behind this paywall is validated. It’s honest information behind here.
PB: Do you rate the trends of handicappers? They may have started out the season great, but all the sudden they’ve lost their last 10. What do you say to that?
CA: That’s all part of our algorithm. I know it sounds like I’m very proud, [but] it’s a very smart algorithm. It’s not accuracy and units. It’s all of that. It’s all of that stuff, all included in that algorithm — so how hot you are. We also pull those things out and it’s listed on the trending data. In your Maryland example, you might see that [one person] is 9-0 when he picks the Terps and he’s picked the Terps this week. You might also see that [that person] is 9-0 when he picks the Terps and this week has decided to what we call go rogue and pick [the opponent]. That’s highly indicative of success. We don’t promote anything and people can make their own assumptions. What that data is suggesting is that [that person] knows the Terps as good as anyone and has decided that not only is he going to sit out this game, he’s going to go to the other side of the bet. You can take a lot from those types of insights that we pull out in our trending data for folks.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Delaware Park