It’s 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Philadelphia. It’s quiet, chilly, and still hours until sunrise as a light flicks on in the third-floor bedroom window of a neat townhouse complex in east Philadelphia.
It’s an hour when most Philadelphians are fast asleep. Even Rocky slept in until sunrise before embarking on his famous run. And yet Jonathan Bales is awake, has already descended the flight of stairs to his office and has flipped open his laptop.
Sunday mornings are among the most important working hours for Bales, who has made a name for himself in the fantasy football industry. He's a best-selling author of analysis and strategy books. He's also an accomplished player in his own right. “I wake up at 7 am, except for Sundays,” Bales said. “I wake up at like 4 am and just do lineups until 1 pm. I get up and I’m writing within five minutes.”
|Favorite NFL Team:||Cowboys|
|Most memorable DFS moment:||Meeting a lot of my best friends|
Bales is a leader in a new generation of fantasy football players, using data to make drafting decisions—and making a good living doing so. He is one of 200 qualifiers for the Fantasy Football World Championship in San Diego, Calif. on December 20 where he’ll choose players from that week’s 15-game NFL slate. If he survives in San Diego, he’ll head to the Grand Final Round in Los Angeles, with an opportunity to take home $5 million.
“This is the world championship, so it means a lot,” Bales said. “I haven’t won a world championship yet, just a lot of big tournament wins, but this is a defining moment.”
To say Bales wrote the book on fantasy football isn’t a stretch, either. His many books in his ‘Fantasy Football For Smart people’ series have become a widely respected body of work. To his 21.9K Twitter followers, Bales is a guru. Bales sees his vocation as being a bit more nuanced.
“I’m not sure what my job is really. I’m just involved in fantasy sports,” Bales said. “I write. I play. I have a website. I’ve made the majority of my money from playing daily fantasy sports. I guess not that long ago – maybe 18 months – I did the research and figured out I could make money doing this as a full time career.”
As one of the first full-time daily fantasy industry personalities, Bales was ahead of the curve. And yet, Bales’s path to DFS notoriety was a windy one.
Bales was a philosophy major in college, who also just so happened to be an ace in his advanced calculus class. After graduation, Bales wrote sports content for a number of publications before taking the leap to start self publishing and playing full time. It’s a leap that few can pull off as successfully as he has; and yet when talking to him about fantasy football, it’s easy to see why he’s been such a success. “I’d say I’m thinking about daily fantasy sports in some way about 95% of the day.”
It’s this singular dedication to fantasy—and his natural gifts with being able to thoughtfully analyze data—that propels Bales. “ I think people have this idea that I’m very robotic and all I care about is data – that’s not the case at all,” Bales said. “I make the majority of choices based on my gut, but I want my gut to be data driven.”
Bales’ fixation with process and perfection manifests itself in other ways besides fantasy sports. He works out 4-5 times a week, thoughtfully crafting each workout based on the results he’s been achieving. He’ll attempt to calculate which builds muscle faster—going for a run before or after his strength training. Bales says his workout routine is, in part, an investment in his professional routine.
“Almost all of my articles come after I workout,” Bales said. “When you’re running, it’s just you out there and you’re forced to think. There, and in the shower – in the shower, there’s nothing to do. You’re just standing there by yourself" Bales says. "Not just physical health, but mental health is extremely important to me,” Bales said. “You need to be able to make really quick decisions. For my mental health, it’s really valuable to work out. It breaks up the day.”
With a writing, researching and lineup building routine that can become rote and mentally taxing, Bales dedication to both physical and mental health has been an essential part of his success. And yet, even on the eve of his entry into the most prestigious fantasy football tournament ever, Bales is as humble and grounded as ever.
“I don’t really feel like I’ve accomplished anything,” he said. “I’ve done maybe two percent of what I want to accomplish. Not even close to doing what I want to do.
“I want way more. I want to be way way better than what I am now.”