RBIs, at-bats, strikeouts, no-hitters…if there’s one sport that’s naturally data-driven, it’s baseball. The game is loaded with it. And, it can play a big role in the road to wins, helping teams shape everything from which players to recruit to how to increase pitch velocity and reduce injuries.
But off the field, data helps the San Francisco Giants make even more winning plays. Here’s how betting on innovation has helped the team win big.
Make Innovation a Culture, Not a Function
Leaving data in the dugout can be a rookie move—especially when you’re competing with other sports, streaming services, and entirely new ways of consuming entertainment. The capabilities to slice and dice high-value data help the Giants flex against change. CIO Bill Schlough says, “Change is happening on a macro level—how fans consume broadcasts and entertainment in general—down to the specifics of how fans interact with the game.”
He notes that technology wasn’t always something many in the industry talked or thought about. “Those days are long gone,” notes Schlough. “We’ve always looked at technology as a strategic enabler that can give us a competitive advantage as opposed to just keeping the lights on.”
“From a macro perspective, innovation influences everything from our technology infrastructure, our communications infrastructure that enables fans to stay connected, to our business analytics and how we sell tickets and drive revenue.” -Bill Schlough, CIO
But embracing technology also means having a winning lineup off the field. When Schlough first joined the Giants in 1999, no other team or league had a CIO. “The concept of technology as a strategic enabler in sports was unique,” he says. Dan Quill, senior director, software engineering, adds, “I was maybe the second or third software engineer in the industry, but that growth has been massive,” with many teams having 10-20 developers on staff today.
Establish a Data-Driven Tech Trifecta
Schlough says, “Our IT team has given us the runway to find creative ways to evolve and leverage our technology to achieve our goals,” including prioritizing the following three areas:
1. Evolve the Customer Experience
“Historically, we’ve been very season ticket-based, and we were kind of an outlier with respect to that. For many years, fans made commitments to an entire season of 81 at-home games, sharing or reselling tickets for games they couldn’t attend. Now we’re seeing changes in fan behavior and trying to adapt to that.”
The team mines fan behavior data to uncover ticket buying patterns. Data informs how they:
- Tailor ticket packages. “Whether it’s packaged food, different entertainment experiences, or promotional items, we are trying to adapt as a business. It’s a big focus for us.” Data also offers a wealth of insights, such as how far in advance tickets are purchased and why.
- Develop incentives like creative theme nights. To encourage fans to physically come to the park, in addition to tuning in on TV, the team taps data to organize theme nights and special events that appeal to current and new fans. “Nobody did more special, micro-targeted events than we did, from Star Wars night to Stitch n’ Pitch knitting night, and our Chinese astrology-themed night.”
- Stay in touch with fans. “We do focus very strongly on our community. Our outreach is among the best in the industry, and with everything going on, it’s been really rewarding.”
2. Get a Competitive Edge
“The other side is tied to the health and wellness of the players—keeping them healthy, which is nontrivial in sports,” says Quill. This means using data to help boost the health, performance, training, recovery, and longevity of players, including the use of:
- Biometrics and biomechanics. “Biomechanics is a pure competitive advantage,” he says. AI-powered analysis of high-resolution video uncovers what pitches and throws do to a player’s arm, using data to analyze movements. “With multiple records per second, you get very granular with how the body is moving,” he says. “Our latest data set has 17 points on the body for analysis, and as time passes, we expect to be able to increase to 25. It really helps discern bad mechanics to help coaches address them and prevent injury.”
- Gameplay analytics. For the Moneyball fans out there, you’ll know exactly how analytics informs coaching, recruiting, and gameplay. Quill adds, “Data drives our baseball analytics and other different systems to help enable our players to perform better. Here’s where technology is something that can give us an edge, as opposed to a cost that can be minimized.”
This is proof that modern innovation doesn’t just benefit IT. It helps the coaches and the players succeed, and they have the best record in franchise history to back it up.
3. Drive Revenue and Grow the Business
The organization leverages the cloud, advanced analytics, and Pure Storage® arrays to stay nimble as an IT organization. Pure enables them to spin up servers whenever they need them, helping business units go after initiatives with true agility. This includes new applications and services, like an advanced tool to help salespeople manage seat sales, particularly in luxury seating areas.
One example of data to evolve business? The 415 section in the ballpark is driving engagement with a subset of loyal fans. “This section of the ballpark is dedicated to the hardcore fans. This gives them their own unique ballpark experience where they can be a bit more rowdy and boisterous, maybe even heckle the other team—all without sitting them next to your grandmother.”
Find Partners Who Share Your Values
In a geographic area defined by top tech giants, it makes sense the Giants would be inspired by tech-savvy fans, sponsors, and ownership to be innovators themselves. The team saw Pure Storage as a natural fit and a fellow organization that’s baked innovation in at the outset.
Pure has revolutionized the way the IT team does its job. IT Director Jackson Wan says simplicity and effortless operations are key. “Pure is one of those technology stacks that if you don’t hear about it, it’s doing its job, and we don’t ever hear about it,” he says. “It’s been rock solid and it’s given us the flexibility and agility to just add on VMs when we need them.”
The team has some exciting new initiatives and applications in development to stay ready for curveballs and catch new opportunities on the fly. Data will play an increasingly important role, and Pure is ready to help them bring it home.