Donny Flynn is a customer data architect at Census. He previously worked as a head of data and is (forever and always) a fanatic for Chicago sports. Donny enjoys working on startups and helping educate the community on data architecture, SQL, and Python. Don't be shy, say hi. 👋

In this article, you'll learn how to automate custom Fantasy Football logic with reverse ETL. I'll go over:

  • Getting data from ESPN
  • Setting up Airtable
  • Using SQL and configuring your syncs in Census
  • Why my team, Chicago Donster, definitely isn't finishing last this year (kidding, mostly)

To follow along, make sure you check out the accompanying Github repo here.


Hello! It’s the middle of football season, and I happen to be a big sports fan (as you’ve probably guessed already). A couple of buddies from college and I have belonged to a Fantasy Football league for the past seven years (yes, a touchdown and an extra point).

Until this year, the ESPN Fantasy app was our source of truth for standings, projected points, who would make the playoffs, and, perhaps most importantly, who was going to land up in the consolation bracket (AKA in jeopardy of the league punishment).

This year, we had an exciting idea: We’d play two games a week, one against our opponent and one against the other 11 members of the league.

We wanted to do this to smooth out some of the luck involved with head-to-head matchups. We didn't want the player who scored the second-highest points not to get any points that week. So, instead, we decided to award an additional win to teams if they were in the top half of scorers for that week.

If composite wins were tied, head-to-head wins were the first tiebreaker with points as the next tiebreaker. Good news: The amendment to the league bylaws was approved by the majority vote! Challenging news: We now needed a source of truth for monitoring projected points and standings. Since I often talk a lot about setting up sources of truth here at Census, I figured this would be a fun real-world use case for reverse ETL.

In this article, I’ll walk you through how you, too, can set up a source of truth for your own Fantasy Football league data using reverse ETL.

Step 1: Get data from ESPN

To ensure we have the current data from the Fantasy League, we first need to query ESPN's Fantasy Football API. Check out the links and follow along in the GitHub repo I’ve thrown together. I’ve also made the video explainer below if that format is more your jam.

This script will query the Fantasy API with your credentials and pull down scores and stats from the league based on the objects you identify. If you want to update any of the logic for your league's specific rules, do so in fantasy_data_routing.py, which includes five phases, and the first four take place in the run_el_script function. Here are the first four steps within this function (we’ll go over the fifth step later in this tutorial):

  1. run_el_script initializes the league object from ESPN Fantasy Football; this can remain unchanged.
  2. create_teams_and_times sets up the team objects, specifying which parameters you want to tie to a team. To customize the metrics you want to track, initialize them to zero here.
  3. create_rankings_and_scores modifies the team dataframes to set the metrics as you want them. For our case, this is where the points wins attribution takes place. Also, it pulls the current and projected scores for the ongoing Fantasy games.
  4. write_to_snowflake initializes the SQLAlchemy Snowflake engine, configures the Snowflake parameters (including database and schema) from the .env file, and writes to the table names specified in the function. You can change this out for any SQL database you configure via JDBC.

After you have your logic the way you want, you’re done with the Python portion!

Step 2: Configure Airtable

This part is quite simple, just set up Airtable how you’d like and share with your team members!

In my case, I wanted to show the current official standings, the current Fantasy matchup scoreboard, and the projected standings for the subsequent week based on what ESPN predicts.

Disclaimer: ESPN's prediction model has the Chicago Donster (AKA my team) in last place. But, that’s not going to happen. It just won't, we're in 8th place and coming off a nail-biter head-to-head win last week. A trade is currently processing. An exciting push for the playoffs could make 2021: the year of the Donster.

Anyway, here’s my Airtable setup: 😅

Step 3: Use SQL and configure Census syncs

Now that we have the data in Snowflake, we can use SQL to pull the relevant statistics for Airtable. I’ve put the SQL I used in the repo, copied and pasted that into Census models, and configured the syncs. For your use case, you’ll need to do the following in Census:

  • Configure your Snowflake (or another data warehouse connection
  • Configure your Airtable connection
  • Write your SQL for each Airtable into the models tab
  • Configure your sync (make sure you map all of the columns!)

We’re going to trigger the Census sync through our Python script, so we’ll need some credentials to properly kick off these syncs to the object at the end of the script. So the fifth and last phase of the fantasy_data_routing.py script is to use trigger Census syncs with the trigger_census_syncs function.

To get the necessary info, you need to click into your sync configuration, take the sync id from the URL, and grab the secret token from the API trigger portion. This secret token will be the same for your project, so you should have three sync ids and one secret token to copy into the .env file.

Step 4. Run the script 🎉

You can run this locally on your machine or orchestrate it however you’d like.

If everything is set up correctly, you’ll run:

python fantasy_data_routing.py

This should kick off the sync and pull the most current ESPN data into Airtable (pretty neat, huh?).

There you have it, a step-by-step way to send your ESPN Fantasy Football data into Airtable and take into account your league’s rules. Thanks so much for reading! If you run into any issues, or just want to talk about data and football, shoot me a line.

Oh, and one more thing: GO BEARS!!