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SBJ/April 2-8, 2012/In Depth
Names in the game
Published April 2, 2012, Page 15
But below this top perch is a series of rising executives helping to shape the next era of baseball business in dynamic and influential ways. From the league and team level to business partners, they’re making the deals and developing the strategies that will guide the sport this season and beyond.
Senior vice president, international business
It’s nearly time for the return of the World Baseball Classic, bringing Archey and the league’s international affairs back into the global forefront. The third version of the tournament, co-owned and operated by MLB and the MLB Players Association, will feature 28 teams, up from 16 in the event’s first two runs, and a new qualifying round that begins this fall. While the WBC is perhaps the most prominent export from Archey’s office, there have been many other gains. Overseas sales of MLB-licensed products have nearly doubled since 2007, reaching record levels last year, and international sponsorship revenue has grown more than 75 percent since 2000. Last week’s season-opening games in Tokyo involving Oakland and Seattle were MLB’s first in Japan since 2008, a move that followed a successful tour of MLB all-stars last fall in Taiwan. As the league’s percentage of foreign-born players hovers at historically high levels, reaching 28 percent last year and attracting more fans from those home countries, Archey’s efforts grow in importance.
President, licensed sports group
Similar to what fellow MLB licensee New Era is experiencing with hats, the licensed baseball shirt and jersey business is on the upswing, and MLB’s official maker of on-field jerseys is under pressure to meet fan demand and develop new products. Among the significant new products that will make their debut this season under the former Pepsi and Kraft executive is a featherweight fleece top that will be worn by players and sold at retail. VF’s Majestic line and Pisani have helped lay the foundation for MLB’s push with its licensees to get more refined about the hot market business and seize more strategically upon events such as the playoffs and player milestones.
Vice president, sports and entertainment marketing
Brown became the top domestic sports marketing executive for the brewing giant following last summer’s departure of Mark Wright to AT&T. With the legal fighting between MLB and A-B from 2010 now a fading memory and with a new contract extension in place, Brown led an aggressive activation during last fall’s scintillating baseball playoffs. Those efforts included an aggressive branding of Budweiser in most of the locker room celebrations, including logos displayed on the plastic sheeting protecting the lockers. Brown is helping lead work at the team level as well, including the recent installation of the Budweiser Patio at Chicago’s Wrigley Field that seeks to create a rooftop-type fan experience.
Senior vice president, baseball operations
Joe Torre is back as the league’s executive vice president for baseball operations after an unsuccessful 10-week stint trying to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, perhaps delaying the further elevation of one of MLB’s fast-rising stars. But the 35-year-old Woodfork remains an important fixture in the league office. In addition to handling umpire-related issues including evaluation and performance benchmarking, Woodfork plays a key role in big-picture issues such as the integration of technology in on-field matters and the evolution of MLB’s instant replay system. Woodfork is among the noted alumni of the 2004 Boston Red Sox front office that also includes five other club general managers. Despite his relative youth, Woodfork’s tenure in baseball has already included two separate stints with the league and stops with the higher revenue Red Sox and the lower revenue Arizona Diamondbacks, giving him a wide-angle perspective.
General manager, Safeco Field
Dominguez has made his mark in concessions by taking a fresh look at ways to generate new revenue. He now directs the food and beverage operation at the Seattle Mariners’ ballpark, which brings in annual estimated revenue in excess of $25 million from those operations. In 2011, his first year with Centerplate in Seattle, Dominguez helped deliver a 13 percent increase in per caps at Safeco Field, a boost tied in part to The Pen, a revamped outfield concessions space. Prior to Seattle, Dominguez served as Aramark’s assistant general manager at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, where he took the lead in developing and executing 2010 All-Star Game renovations and concessions upgrades at Angel Stadium. He was part of the team responsible for ESPN recognizing the facility and the Angels as the No. 1 sports franchise for value in America.
Senior vice president, programming and research
Fox Sports Media Group
When MLB and Fox decided to increase the number of prime-time regular-season games, it depended on Mulvihill’s research. When MLB decided to start its World Series games 30 minutes earlier than usual, Mulvihill’s research provided the impetus to make the change. Mulvihill’s words, always backed up by numbers, carry a lot of weight not just at Fox Sports, but at all of the media company’s league partners. The decision to make World Series start times earlier is a good example. For years, networks believed that later start times led to higher ratings. But Mulvihill realized that the key time was 11 p.m. ET, at the end of prime time when viewers would click over to see the Series. People would stay with games that were in the seventh inning or later. But with games going longer, some would be only in the fifth or sixth inning at 11. That was the ammo Mulvihill used to begin the conversation on changing start times.
Chief marketing officer
Parkes helps oversee two of the league’s most high-profile and critical efforts, the MLB Fan Cave and the Commissioner’s Ticket Review Committee. With the Fan Cave, the debut effort last year generated more than 1.3 billion social media impressions, and more broadly, better positioned the sport in front of a younger fan base vital for the league’s growth. The ticket committee, meanwhile, is seeking to move beyond traditional best practices sharing among teams and to develop large-scale initiatives such as the new FanPass brand for baseball’s efforts around digital ticketing. Parkes also plays a key role in the league’s cause-related marketing, extending MLB’s relationship with organizations such as Stand Up 2 Cancer, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the Partnership at DrugFree.org.
Director, business affairs and licensing, and senior counsel, business
MLB Players Association
Thanks in part to social media, fans have a greater and closer connection to players than ever. It’s on the shoulders of Slavin, a former transactional attorney, to help mine new business opportunities and take further advantage of that heightened fan passion. In particular, the union’s commercial business aims to build more digital products related to players to complement traditional entries into apparel, collectibles and other hard and soft goods. With an exclusive third-party video game license with 2K Sports expiring after this season following a decidedly bumpy run, big decisions await for one of the union’s biggest individual licensing categories.
Senior vice president, broadcasting
Tully is on the front lines of a high-profile ratings war for baseball’s national broadcasts, a perhaps somewhat unfair litmus test for a generally more local and regional sport, but metrics that still matter significantly. For last year’s World Series between St. Louis and Texas, MLB delivered a 19 percent year-over-year ratings increase, and Game 7 was the sport’s most-watched broadcast of any type in seven years. But even more than jewel events, Tully has led a strong entry for baseball into the documentary space, helping bring programs such as “The Franchise” on Showtime and “Derek Jeter 3K” on HBO into creation. Both specials generated rave reviews, helped show new facets of the game generally unseen by the public, and garnered a combined four Sports Emmy nominations. Tully recently helped construct a return of “The Franchise” this year, shifting from San Francisco to Miami to chronicle the Marlins and their new ballpark and disparate mix of personalities.
Vice president, programming and acquisitions
As the ESPN executive who manages the day-to-day relationship with MLB, Sobieski has an open line to MLB’s offices in New York. Her role becomes even more pronounced this year, as ESPN and MLB plan to start discussions to renew their media rights deal. But Sobieski’s responsibilities go far beyond such deals. She is part of all strategic planning initiatives with MLB and, internally, makes sure ESPN is doing what it is contractually allowed to do across all platforms. When problems arise, Sobieski is the first one to call MLB and smooth things over.
New Era Cap Co.
Perhaps no other piece of licensed sports apparel is as pervasive and endemic as the baseball hat. And after several years of recession-related retrenchment, New Era is poised for an era of aggressive expansion. The company aims to open 100 branded retail stores and continues to push its apparel and accessory lines to complement the core hat business. With MLB seeking out greater entries into youth markets through endeavors such as the Fan Cave, New Era products from both its authentic and more fashion-oriented segments will be front and center.
Executive vice president, revenue
MLB Advanced Media
MLBAM has long staked out a leadership position in paid content across a multitude of platforms. Now the company is looking to reach a similarly lofty perch in digital advertising, with Garden playing an instrumental role in those efforts. In particular, MLBAM last year struck a partnership with Bay Area technology firm Auditude to create a mobile ad platform to insert ads into live game streams on mobile devices. The deal and MLBAM’s overall efforts in mobile advertising seek to break significant new ground as revenues in the segment industrywide have come nowhere near matching actual user traffic patterns. For MLB.com in particular, the company last July generated 51 percent of its traffic from mobile, well above norms for sports content and heightening the urgency of the company’s efforts. Garden also is working to deepen sponsor integration into other key MLBAM touch points, such as Gameday game tracking on MLB.com.
Senior vice president, executive producer
Fox Sports Net
When FS Midwest identified St. Louis Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras with an on-screen graphic as “Minor League Guy” last month, the gaffe spread through the blogosphere. While blogs generally were amused by the mistake, there were no laughs inside Fox Sports. It’s Connelly’s role to take such matters seriously and ensure that mistakes don’t happen. A former general manager of FS Arizona, Connelly was hired to his current post to replace the late Doug Sellars, who had been promoted at Fox. Connelly now oversees production for nearly 2,000 MLB games across all of FSN’s regional sports networks and makes sure they are all produced at a high quality.
President, interim CEO
San Diego Padres
There’s a lot of turbulence above Garfinkel as the team’s vice chair, Jeff Moorad, recently withdrew his bid to complete his purchase of the team from John Moores and then relinquished the chief executive title. But under Garfinkel, who sports a varied career background with stops in racing, beer and oil, the Padres operationally are growing quickly and soon may be poised to end a long run of financial issues. Previously playing under one of the worst local TV deals in baseball, Garfinkel and the Padres are nearing completion on a 20-year pact with Fox Sports Net worth an estimated $1 billion that will create a new regional sports network serving San Diego. The club has increased attendance the last two years, posted strong boosts in its season-ticket base and renewal percentage, and struck creative sponsorships. Garfinkel, particularly with the ownership drama happening around him and a last-place finish in 2011, will be under great pressure to maintain momentum.
Personally, it’s been an emotional eight months for the 43-year-old Hall as he battled, and then successfully beat, prostate cancer over the fall and winter. But the charismatic Hall has the Diamondbacks positioned as one of the rising franchises in baseball, even in a Phoenix locale seen by many in the industry as an oversaturated sports market with weak fan affinity. The club’s 2011 included a successful run helping host the MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field, the opening of the highly regarded Salt River Fields at Talking Stick spring training facility with the Rockies, and a surprise NL West division title. Now with the club again strongly positioned on the field, the team this year pushed its sponsorship business forward with a new and much-discussed black-tie awards gala (Hall is shown at the event at the right). And with the Diamondbacks’ TV contract up in three years, Hall and the club are planning to take full advantage in the historic escalation in local cable baseball rights fees..
Senior vice president, labor relations and general counsel
Halem’s boss, Rob Manfred, is the primary negotiator for the league’s collective bargaining with the MLB Players Association, but Halem served as Manfred’s lead aide on a five-year labor deal that perhaps will carry the most impact in league history. The deal includes new mechanisms to oversee the acquisition of amateur talent, the first postseason format change since 1995, realignment that sent the Houston Astros to the American League, and changes to revenue sharing and luxury tax rules. Prior to the overall CBA, Halem helped negotiate the creation of a seven-day disabled list for players suffering from concussions and related head injuries. And he has been deeply involved on safety issues involving the shattering of low-density maple bats, with those type of wood bats now to be phased out in the new labor deal.
Playing in an economically shrinking market, boasting just one playoff appearance in the last decade and competing in the AL Central against the free-spending Detroit Tigers, Shapiro and the Indians have a continually uphill fight both on and off the field. But Shapiro is widely regarded as one of the brightest and most innovative executives in the game. The Indians under Shapiro last season ended a nasty four-year attendance slide and posted MLB’s largest percentage increases in both attendance and local TV ratings. Shapiro also has aggressively pushed the non-game use of Progressive Field, staging a successful daylong country music festival last year and a winter carnival for two years in a row, including a Michigan-Ohio State hockey game in January. Shapiro helped create the popular Indians Social Suite at Progressive Field and is a key factor that has positioned the Indians as industry thought leaders in social media.
Regional director, Philadelphia
Aramark Sports & Entertainment
Hastings has more than 30 years of experience with Aramark and oversees the company’s operations in the Philadelphia area. It is a critical position considering Aramark’s headquarters is in Philly and the vendor must continually meet its hometown fans’ high standards. Hastings was in charge of Aramark’s openings at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia in 2004 and Citi Field in New York in 2009. He has been at the forefront of developing new concessions technologies, playing a key role helping the Phillies’ ballpark become the first MLB facility to use stored-value tickets, as well as MLB.com’s mobile food ordering application. Hastings also has been responsible for shaping Citizens Bank Park’s diverse menus, which perennially rank among MLB’s best ballparks for food.
Senior vice president, licensing
The last two seasons have been a particularly frenetic run for Smith, a 14-year veteran of the league office. Posting record sales of licensed merchandise in 2010 and 2011, Smith has overseen a heightened refinement and expansion of the hot market business, taking better advantage of events such as the St. Louis Cardinals’ “Rally Squirrel” craze during last season’s playoffs and Derek Jeter’s march to 3,000 career hits. Increased customization of recurrent products such as championship clinch shirts and hats has helped boost that segment of the business. And Smith has led a further march into creating more licensed products for women and less traditional products, such as Pillow Pets plush toys popular with children. This season presents a particularly high opportunity for anniversary-related merchandise as Fenway Park celebrates its 100th anniversary, Dodger Stadium celebrates its 50th, the Houston Astros and New York Mets each mark their 50th anniversary of entering the National League, and Marlins Park opens in Miami.
Senior vice president, corporate sales and marketing
The former Six Flags Entertainment executive arrived at MLB early last year, just days after the league settled a nasty spat with sponsor Anheuser-Busch and with a slate of other key accounts up for renewal. In short order, Koskovolis helped line up extensions with bedrock sponsors such as Chevrolet, Pepsi, MasterCard, One-A-Day and Bank of America. From there, the league’s national advertisers rolled some of their most well-received creative in years, including Pepsi’s “Field of Dreams” promotion featuring a spate of hall of famers, and Taco Bell’s postseason ads with colorful San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson. With further stability now ensured among most of the major existing accounts, Koskovolis will now look to use the sport’s rising popularity and enlarged profile of the game’s stars to seek out new sponsorship business.
Senior vice president, creative and content
TBS’s on-air look-and-feel for baseball games comes from Barry, who oversaw the development of a new graphics package last postseason that incorporated a nostalgic look for the games and studio show. Barry was instrumental in creating musical tie-ins around the postseason the last two years with Kid Rock and Bon Jovi. A 23-year veteran of Turner Sports, Barry oversees all creative for TBS’s MLB games, including graphics, music, post-production and Web design, as well as marketing, sponsorships and ad sales support. He oversees the creative service sports unit that has more than 75 employees.