When he was in eighth grade, during the pioneering days of the Apple II in the 80s, Ian Greengross created his first and only video game.
In it, a player took on the role of a frog at the bottom of a flight of stairs faced with a series of timed math questions. For each correct answer, the frog would jump up one step. If an answer was wrong or time ran out, snakes would emerge from the sides of the screen, kill the frog, and end the game.
This may have foreshadowed his eventual job managing contract negotiations for NFL running backs, like recent Atlanta Falcons signing Damien Williams. And though no Turing Award is in his future, math has continued to serve as both an amateur pastime and a professional aid, decades after Greengross began his career as a sports agent.
Now 51, Greengross believes he’s discovered a way to merge his jock and nerd interests into a near-perfect, mutually supportive side gig. Earlier this year, he became a partner in Learn Media, a collaboration of about two dozen data scientists with monetizable social media followings.
So, in addition to his main sports-related job – aside from Williams, the Chicago-based agent currently represents four prospects in this month’s NFL Draft and a handful of hockey and football coaches – Greengross Also looking for deals for the likes of Ken Jee, who produces weekly tutorial-like videos for his 194,000 YouTube subscribers on topics like “The Best Free Data Science Courses Nobody’s Talking About.”
“I would never do anything that would take away my primary responsibility to all my athletic athletes and coaches,” Greengross said in a recent interview, “but I’m lucky to have a few hours here or there. They just needed of someone who would get in there and fight for a better price.
Learn Media has given him the opportunity to champion masters in different types of fields than his typical clientele. And although the zenith of his own computer programming career came in college, his penchant for STEM subjects came in handy on many occasions.
After graduating from Chicago Law School, Greengross took a job with famed defense attorney-turned-sports agent Steve Zucker, who represented a number of Chicago Bears stars, including quarterback Jim McMahon. , as well as future NFL Hall of Famers like Deion Sanders. and Eric Dickerson.
Following a messy new collective bargaining agreement that NFL owners and players reached in 1993, Greengross says Zucker leaned on him to run various salary cap scenarios when it came to their clients. Greengross worked under Zucker for seven years before leaving to hang his own shingle.
As the NFL moved into the age of analytics, Greengross felt his math and computer skills allowed him to “keep up to date,” rather than having to hire other people. to manage computational tasks.
About three years ago, Greengross decided it was time to update his snake-based coding skills by learning the Python programming language. He started out learning on his own through YouTube videos, then started attending a free monthly Chicago Python User Group project party, held in the downtown conference room of an e-commerce company. .
“I would watch people who are so much smarter and I was finally able to do real things,” Greengross said.
He was accepted into a mentorship program, embarking on a project using statistical modeling to project an NFL running back’s contract extension salary, based on the player’s total average. As Greengross became more skilled, he also began to engage in debates about sports analytics on Twitter, which found him in occasional repartee with Ethan Douglas, then a data analyst for Athleticism.
Douglas invited Greengross to team up with him and two others — Sean Clement, a senior data scientist for U.S. Special Operations Command, and Nick Wan, a neuroscientist who now works as director of analytics for the Cincinnati Reds — to write an article for the last time. the Big Data Cup hockey analysis of the year.
Their submission: “Value contributing individual events (V-ICE) in hockey.
“V-ICE: Valuing Individual Contributing Events” for female hockey dataset courtesy of @HockeyAnalytics.
Mélodie Daoust was our best Olympic skater and won the MVP title! pic.twitter.com/Jp5mJ3tw8f
— Ethan Douglas (@EthanCDouglas) March 5, 2021
Shortly after, Wan, who hosts a popular Twitch livestream dedicated to data and coding, called Greengross to ask for his help in negotiating with a potential sponsor. As Wan recalled, Greengross told him that the sponsor’s proposed deal was “criminally low” and told Wan how to counter. the voluntarily the advice was helpful, as Wan said the sponsor agreed to his terms.
In December, Wan phoned Greengross again, this time to introduce him to Jee, whose day job is leading data science for Scouts Consulting Group, which provides strategic analysis and analytical research to teams and managers. athletes. With his successful YouTube channel, Jee had become a household name within the small but emerging community of social media statisticians.
Like Wan, Jee was struggling to figure out how to respond to the recent surge in sponsor interest in his online content. Offers were coming in everywhere, ranging from pennies to several thousand dollars per YouTube video.
From this emerged Learn Media. Although its creators’ audience is small compared to other social networks, even among producers of educational content, Jee says data scientists bring unique added value to sponsors. But determining one’s own worth in a niche and new market can be difficult to determine, even among those who are data-driven.
“As a content creator, I don’t know how to price myself,” Jee said.
Late last year, Jee and his Learn Media partner, Tina Huang, a Big Tech data scientist with a YouTube channel of 291,000 subscribers, approached Greengross to serve as the cohort’s inside negotiator.
“He has a skill set that I don’t want to index on,” Jee said. “When dealing with new people, I prefer to create the content. There is a great synergy between what Ian does and my skills. What I can do is find other content creators.
For Greengross, doing “NIL for Data Scientists,” as he describes it, has given him both the opportunity to immerse himself more among brains — and hone his own skills — while learning about companies that don’t. not traditionally seek to sponsor sports personalities but could, theoretically, be persuaded to do so.
“Bargaining is bargaining,” says Jee.
You just need to understand the math, climb the stairs, and avoid the snakes.