SBD/Issue 122/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With MLB Giants Senior VP & CIO Bill Schlough

Giants Exec VP
& CIO Bill Schlough
The MLB Giants have long been on the cutting edge of technological advances, which is due in no small part to Senior VP & Chief Information Officer BILL SCHLOUGH. Schlough has led initiatives such as the Double Play Ticket Window, the Digital Dugout, contactless credit card payments, and turned AT&T Park into "one huge sports bar" with HD TV's placed throughout the stadium. In his spare time, he finds time to ski race with his wife in Oregon and will compete in his first Ironman competition this summer. Staff writer Beth Thrower recently found time to catch up with Schlough, who despite his accomplishments describes himself as "not a gadget person."

College attended: Duke Univ., with an MBA from Wharton. 
First job: Mowing lawns for neighbors. I also had a paper route. I delivered the Reporter Dispatch in Westchester County (NY).
Childhood sports idol: AHMAD RASHAD.
Favorite vacation spot: Well if I just say Hawaii that’s kind of lame. … Mt. Hood in Oregon. A little town there called Government Camp. It’s a ski racing Mecca. All the great ski racers in the world convene there each summer to train.
Are you a big skier? Yeah, I’ve been ski racing for 20 years, and my wife ski races also.
Favorite spectator sport: Baseball and table tennis.
Men’s Final Four prediction: Duke, UNC, UCLA, Memphis. That would be a sweet Final Four.

Q: So you went to Duke. Thoughts on last Saturday’s North Carolina-Duke game?

Schlough: We’re even at this point.

Q: Tell me a little bit about creating the first 100% Wi-Fi stadium (AT&T Park) in professional sports.

Schlough: That was for the 2004 season, so we’re going into our fifth year now, the ballpark being a Wi-Fi hotspot. Back then there was a little bit of chicken and egg because there weren’t that many wireless devices out there. Today, every laptop has a Wi-Fi card in it; back then you had to add the Wi-Fi cards to laptops. But we felt like it would be a great way to enhance the experience for our fans. At first some people scratched their heads about it, because they said, "Are people really going to bring their laptops to the ballpark?" Admittedly, you didn’t see thousands of people bringing their laptops to the ballpark in the 2004 season. In a typical game we’d have just a handful, probably less than 50 laptops in the ballpark. But we knew back then that it wasn’t about laptops, it was about handheld devices that leveraged the Wi-Fi technology. Bringing those to the ballpark and being able to use those as a platform to enhance the experience for fans, deliver information that they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. So you know, an avid baseball fan can come to the game and follow, not only the Giants game in front of them, but other games across the league they can watch live video of other games. Last year with the debut of the iPhone, overnight our traffic on the Wi-Fi network went up close to 50%.

Q: What else have the Giants done in terms of technological advancement that other teams haven’t?

Schlough: We really were fortunate in a couple ways, one is that we’re here real close to Silicon Valley and a lot of our fans embrace technology and want to see it at the ballpark. But at the same time, we don’t want a ballpark that just exudes high-tech. We want it to have a bit of an old time feel while you’re at the ballpark. Over the years we’ve rolled out a number of technologies. We were the first team to roll out a digital video coaching system when we opened the ballpark in 2000. That was a first, and all teams do that today. Also when we opened the ballpark, we did launch the Double Play Ticket Window and we were the first organization in professional sports and the entertainment business to really embrace the secondary market for our tickets. Today it’s all one marketplace and it just speaks to the success of that technology and the whole concept of embracing the secondary market.

Recently, our focus has really been on the video side of the ballpark. We did a three-phase plan of converting the ballpark to high-def. The concept of someone being able to watch a game at home and have a better experience than at the ballpark is something we wanted to try to address. … But when HD TVs came out and people are putting plasma and LCD flat-screens up on their walls, that’s a pretty compelling experience. So for the 2006 season, we rolled out 225 new flat-screen TVs and we converted our infrastructure to be able to deliver high-def throughout the ballpark. We’re not just talking about replacing our TVs, we put TVs everywhere. For ‘07 -- Phase 2 -- we put in a huge screen, high-def TV, our Mitsubishi DiamondVision in centerfield. 130 feet wide by 30 feet high. And this year, we’ve wrapped it up and all remaining TVs in the ballpark are now high-def. So wherever you go you have a high-def experience.

One technology that I didn’t talk about on the concession side is really focusing heavily toward what we call the "Cashless Ballpark." In partnership with Visa, we’ve really tried to streamline the concession experience because we want fans to be able to spend their time in their seats watching the game or walking around the park, we don’t want them sitting in line waiting for their food. We most recently turned it around where you swipe the card yourself and no signature is required up to $25.

Q: Any plans for 2008?

Schlough: We are wrapping up that TV upgrade. We also have a mini-ballpark out in centerfield which was a big hit when we opened the park for little kids to play. When we did that we put a mini video board in that park as well, where the kids could watch themselves play. We put three cameras in the mini-ballpark, so for this season we’re going high-def for that as well. Another area of focus -- we’re probably a couple of weeks away from making an announcement -- is we want to try to leverage our Wi-Fi network to deliver more and more content to fans while they’re at the ballpark.

Schlough Says Naming-Rights Deal With AT&T
Helps Team With Technological Investments
Q: Do you have any kind of unique partnership with AT&T in terms of technological initiatives?

Schlough: Our naming rights partner is in the technology space and is a huge player in that space. So, I don’t really want to name names of other facilities, but you can name them yourself. If your facility is not a technology vendor -- let’s say it’s a consumer product or something -- that really changes or reduces your ability to make some of these investments. It’s really neat for me to have a partner like AT&T that will support some of these investments. If I had a partner like Tide -- let’s say it was Tide Park. What could we really do with that? You can’t really enhance the experience with Tide products unless people got really, really dirty with ketchup or something.

Q: You helped lead San Francisco’s bid to host the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Did you bring anything back to the Giants from this?

Schlough: One of the things that attracted me to the Giants nine years ago was the fact that our COO LARRY BAER and chief legal counsel JACK BAIR, were both a part of San Francisco’s bid committee. That was interesting to me because the Olympics are a real passion for me. My dream that hopefully will be fulfilled before I die will be to bring the Olympics to the Bay Area. There was definitely a lot of overlap. Not only with that bid process where I was able to go out there and work with a lot of the same partners, but to provide resources and an idea and a vision for the Games, but also the experiences I have had in the other cities. The Giants allow me to take leave to the Winter Games, so the experiences I’ve had in Italy and in Salt Lake give me a lot of great ideas that I can bring back here.

Q: What is your favorite technological gadget (that you own or want) and why?

Schlough: I am so not a gadget person. I don’t have high-def TV at home. I have a Treo and it’s very useful to me, but I wish I didn’t have to. If I had to say, the gadget that I rely the most upon is my alarm clock.

Q: Who is the team's most marketable player now that BARRY BONDS is gone?

Schlough: Our two pitchers, MATT CAIN and TIM LINCECUM, both have incredible upsides. Lincecum has not proven as much as Cain has, but anytime they are on the mound, I want to be at the ballpark because I think there’s a possibility of something special happening.

Q: What is the sports business story you will be following most closely in 2008?

Schlough: It’s definitely the Beijing Olympics. I’m just going to be really interested to see how Beijing is perceived during the Games. I was in Torino and I saw that city from the inside, but then what you see on TV here in America is very different from reality. I’ll be interested to see how the city is perceived versus some of the things you hear about the city in terms of pollution and the way people are treated and the government and that type of stuff. I just want to see how Beijing comes out.

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