Supporting Business Areas

By Bill Schlough  |  Posted 10-01-2004 Print Email
You support three areas of the business, each with different needs. How does that work?

Baseball is very different from the other two. It's kind of like there's baseball, and there's the rest of the business. So ticketing, sponsorship, accounting, our Giants enterprises group—whenever we go forward with an IT initiative, it's got to be led by one of those. And that's really key to our success.

A great example of an initiative that had trouble is our intranet.

It took years to get it off the ground, but we finally got it going in 2001. Well, someone in my department led it exclusively, and we tried to, you know, collect the requirements of a whole bunch of different business units in our intranet 1.0.

It was out there, and it had some killer apps, but it really didn't serve the needs of the whole populace, and so it went underused.

With release 2.0 we said, "Hey, even though this covers so many different business units, somebody outside of IT is going to drive this."

Now we've got 2.0 out. We're getting feedback from all across the office on this. A lot of people are excited about it, a lot of people have ideas. Now we can choose from the whole company who we think would be the right person outside of our department to lead this. We want somebody who's got influence, who spans multiple departments.

Is there one of the three areas where you have more allies?

I try not to work that way. Baseball is really the fun stuff for me, the glamorous job, but it's hard work because a lot of the coaches and players and scouts are not technology savvy. If I need feedback from a coach, I can't send an appointment in Outlook.

So the baseball side's been more of a crusade—getting laptops to all our scouts, for instance. Only recently have we got these folks into the mindset of how technology can improve their efficiency and decision making.

From the standpoint of publicity, the Wi-Fi rollout was a home run. Is it paying off?

We haven't figured the ROI, if that's what you're asking. Anecdotally, I've heard about people looking up trivia about pitcher-batter match-ups and becoming the expert in their row, settling a bet in the bleachers. Of course, you'll get your hecklers wondering why you have a PDA out at a baseball game, too. But on balance, the feedback has been phenomenal. And SBC Communications Inc., our title sponsor, is in telecommunications, and the Freedomlink service [the Wi-Fi connection provided by SBC] has reinforced their brand in a big way.

But from a business standpoint, I'd say the Wi-Fi has been a success already because of the relationships we have as a result with Intel Corp., Nortel Networks and Hewlett-Packard Co.

A lot of the technology you use comes from those relationships, from sponsors who want to have their names on the scoreboard. Does that make your job easier?

Lots of companies are happy to give us stuff for free, but the danger is really that you've got to take a close look and ask, "Does this make sense for our organization. And is this company going to last?" Because we've been through a lot of failures.

Early on, we might have thought, "You want to do it for free? Great!" But not anymore. Now we have three investment criteria for any new project. One, is this going to enhance the fan experience in some way? Two, is this at least revenue-neutral? If it dramatically enhances the fan experience, it doesn't have to be revenue-neutral—but at least revenue-neutral over a time horizon. And that used to be it.

Now we add a third thing: Is this partner viable, and do they have a sound business model?

The development of Double Play is really a good story because the company that we brought in to develop Double Play was a joint venture between Intel and SAP America Inc. called Pandesic LLC, and they were one of the first dot-com busts.

The deal changed our whole philosophy about whom you partner with. Intel and SAP are pretty strong companies. We figured a joint venture between those two is probably going to stick around. So we committed to Pandesic for our entire fan-loyalty program.

From scratch, they built us this networked system, integrated with our ticketing system, Tickets.com Inc., and they were also our CRM system. That was huge: Now we could gather information about all of the transactions our fans were doing, and manage our marketing campaigns, all in one system.

Then Pandesic went bust in September of our first year. Fortunately, they kept us going through the end of the season, and when October came, we had to decide what to do.

Was your butt on the line?

The beauty is, I don't make the final decisions for the organization. We make decisions together, as a team. We may not always reach true consensus, but we reach a majority. We fail, we fail together. We succeed, we succeed together. So there wasn't any real finger-pointing with Pandesic. But that doesn't mean we were okay with it. We want to take steps forward, not back, and we vowed to at least be back to where we were by the start of the next season.

So what did you do?

Everybody came at us. SAP said, "We'll do all of it for you!" But we didn't want to go there. We didn't have two years to build this thing. So basically we went two different routes. We broke it up. We persuaded Tickets.com to recreate our resale system. On the CRM side, we decided to take what we learned and bring it in-house with another CRM system called the Profiler, based on Microsoft/SQL database technology.

What's your ideal? What are you building toward?

I really liked what I saw recently near Dusseldorf, Germany. It's a horseshoe coliseum called Arena AufSchalke with a retractable roof. It's a completely ticketless and cashless facility. Even the turnstiles are electronic.

Everything works with RFID cards and smart chips. The coolest thing about it was that once you walked in, the turnstiles kicked you in the butt to keep you moving. It's amazing how big a difference that made in keeping the lines moving. And they didn't need to staff the turnstiles.

Was that trip to Germany a one-time deal, or do you do recon regularly?

I try to make two to four of these trips a year. Or someone from my team will go. We're competitive on the field, but if we can learn from each other, it will only improve baseball as a business and entertainment over all.



 

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