How IT Bolsters the Baseball Experience and Revenues

Bill Schlough was named CIO of the San Francisco Giants at the tender age of 29. Five years later, he's helping his team lead the league in IT. If Schlough keeps it up, he might earn himself a spot in the Customer Loyalty Hall of Fame, too.
In August 1996, 16 months before the first brick was laid at SBC Park, fans of the San Francisco Giants baseball team could go online and check out the view of home plate from their prospective season seats—and purchase the rights to those seats for a lifetime.

Back then, real estate agents had just begun offering crude virtual walk-throughs on Web sites, but the sweeping pano-views of the inside of the future SBC Park—designed by HOK Sport + Venue + Event, the architects behind Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards—were an order of magnitude finer than just about anything a baseball fan (or prospective home buyer) had yet glimpsed.

Nor was this a soon-forgotten "Cool Site of the Day" gimmick.

Sales from those first 15,000 charter-seat licenses helped the consortium that had purchased the money-losing Giants in 1993 to book advance revenues against the $200 million in debt they racked up while completing the $357 million waterfront facility.

SBC Park was the first privately funded baseball stadium to open since Dodger Stadium, in 1962.

More important, the online marketing initiative laid the groundwork for the enviable position the Giants find themselves in today: Fully 28,000 of the park's 42,000 seats have been presold to season-ticket holders—that's 66 percent, the highest percentage in major league baseball.

Since moving to SBC Park from windswept Candlestick Park, the Giants have tripled annual revenues, too, from $65 million to a break-even $170 million.

"Of course, making it to the 2002 World Series, and getting to see Barry Bonds hit haven't hurt our chances," says Giants Vice President and COO Larry Baer, with an expansive grin.

He doesn't grandstand for long, though, before switching to crisp executive mode.

"We lost a fair amount of money at Candlestick Park. Actually, we lost a lot of money at Candlestick. And it was clear that if we couldn't get a new stadium built, we'd have to move the team."

Bill Schlough
Career Highlights
2002: Technology Team Leader, San Francisco 2012 Olympic Bid

2000: Technical Supervisor, Olympic Games (Salt Lake City)

1999: Named CIO of San Francisco Giants

1998: Associate, IT Group, Booz Allen Hamilton

1996: Event Services Coordinator, Olympic Games (Atlanta)

1994: Consultant, World Cup Soccer (Stanford, Calif.)

For the Giants, Baer underscores, doing what they want has been partly tech-driven.

"Our goal is to be one of the most technologically advanced sports facilities in the world," he says.

"I'm not a techie myself, but technology has been a huge strategic factor for us, in lots of ways, and Bill has done a great job making sure our technology projects give us direct benefits and really enhance the fan experience."

"Bill" is CIO Bill Schlough, 34, a tall, clean-cut engineering graduate from Duke University with an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business, who could pass for a lean first baseman.

Hired in 1999, Schlough has not only kept the Giants' front office Web-savvy, he's demonstrated new potential for IT in professional sports, including a successful six-figure effort to establish SBC Park as the first major-league ballpark to offer 802.11b Wi-Fi at every seat in the house.

Schlough fields an IT division of eight who serve 150 full-time employees in three main areas within the Giants organization:

  • Operations (SBC Park itself, which also plays host to soccer, concerts and Monster Truck rallies during the off-season).
  • Baseball (the players, coaches and scouts, who rely, for example, on digital video to improve their hitting and pitching, or to assess promising talent).
  • Ticketing (ticket sales, as well as other aspects of customer service, including self-service kiosks that allow fans to print out their tickets before going through the park's old-fashioned turnstiles).

    Ticket sales comprise the biggest revenue source—about 50 percent of the team's annual income.

  • This article was originally published on 10-01-2004
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