Bill Schlough, the executive behind Giant’s innovation

Justin Kasser, Writer

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Overlooking McCovey Cove, a young boy runs ahead of his parents as he explores the right field walkway. Another fan grips a hot dog in one hand, and a baseball mitt around his other. A woman, sporting a bright orange t-shirt, with the name on the back printed as “Posey,” cheers ecstatically as she waves her hands in the air and hugs her boyfriend. Cheering next to her are all different ethnicities, sizes, and gender fans sporting black, orange, and cream colored jerseys, with an array of different players on the back ranging from Morse to Mays and McCovey. All of the fans were comforted by the optimistic and joyous attitude apparent throughout all the other fans attending the baseball matchup.

Turning to his right, an elderly man with his grandson sees the colorful video monitor above center fielder Angel Pagan’s head. The video board, as bright as it is high definition, is powered by 3 million vibrant LED’s. The grandson turns to his left to see a young Asian couple taking a selfie with their Giants gear. Tagging it with the hashtag “#sfgiants,” they proceeded to Snapchat it to the official San Francisco Giants Snapchat account. A pleasant attendant passes by a family of four, as she asks each family member to place their coke cans and Ghiradelli sundae cups into the recycling bag the attendant is holding. As they quickly sort it into the bag, the parents acknowledge the attendant with a smile and follow their son and daughter up the stairs to their seats. The purple lights illuminating the second deck club level shine on his backwards Gigantes hat, as he rushes down the aisle to his seat in the second row of section 210. Above him, San Francisco Giants Chief Information Officer chuckles as he turns back to me to answer a few more questions. Schlough knows he has a lot to do with the young fans enjoyment of that night’s game versus the Cincinnati Reds, yet he is too humble to admit it. Lucky for me, I did have the chance to discuss how the Giants sit atop an innovation empire, much of it connecting with the technology at AT&T Park, Schlough’s main department to oversee.

When you first see Schlough, an immediate impression is made. The executive is dressed for his success, sporting a collared shirt and khakis, yet looks approachable and available to answer a question. Indeed, the 16-year Giants veteran executive has played the role of many, including a tech expert, an innovator, and a sports enthusiast. Schlough has a Mechanical Engineering degree from Duke University as well as a MBA from the Wharton School. He keeps a grin and a chuckle no matter who he talks to or where he is, whether it’s chatting with Giants CEO Larry Baer or ballpark tour guide Frank Secretario.

Next to the CIO’s office space, a quote is at the the door glass. The quote reads, “The San Francisco Giants are dedicated to enriching our community through innovation and excellence on and off the field.” When that passage was recited that back to Schlough, it was apparent how much he took that quote to the work he did each day. “Our mission statement doesn’t talk about winning world series,” he says. “It talks about enriching our community, and it talks about innovation.” Schough explained how throughout all of the Giants and his decisions made, they find a direct connection to their mission. “When I came here 15 years ago, from my knowledge, we were the only sports team that innovation was core to our mission,” the CIO says, as he scanned the stadium, identifying mentally all of the many innovations core to the Giants organization. Glancing between the @café and the Garden, both located in center field, Schlough says that, “We really took in-stadium social media to the next level when we transformed the Build-A-Bear Workshop to the @café, where we really showcase online talk between fans.” Schlough worked tirelessly to create an area out of the unnecessary stuffed animal kingdom to a social media hub where fans can wirelessly interact throughout games, whether they are at the stadium or not. The café is filled with coffee and video monitors, Twitter feeds and Instagram posts, and a bubbling environment filled with tech. Statista reports that roughly 10% of people used social media in 2005, increasing over the years to 60% in 2010. Though the rise in social media was difficult for Schlough to comprehend at first, he built an amazing team to take the wireless and HD content available and mold it into a system for fans to stay involved throughout.

It’s well known that the environmental structure of AT&T Park is just as recognized and admired as the social and technological features throughout the ballpark.

“We are currently Leed Silver Certified and and trying to be the first Leed Gold Sports facility,” Schlough says as he gestures towards a recycling symbol to his right.

“We want to give back to the community, and one way is to make this stadium as green as possible.”  At the current rate they are at, it wouldn’t be surprising if they achieved that goal. With the mixture of technology and eco-friendly ballpark features, Schlough has a firm understanding of what’s needed to make a monumental environmental impact, as he has worked closely with many of the green projects continuing to be implemented into the San Francisco baseball organization.

“[The new center field garden] was first announced by First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 World Series celebration in the White House.” Schlough is passionate about is to have all fans maintain a connection to the game when attending. He explained that due to distraction for the batter, the garden couldn’t be within the batter’s eye, and therefore fans were unable to watch the live game from there. Schlough and his team partnered with the green team at AT&T Park to put HD televisions in the garden so fans can still watch the game, therefore keeping a constant stream of traffic into the garden. Schlough is viewed by his coworkers as a leader, and admired because he is able to put the organizations standards before his own. In an interview with Informationweek, co-worker and Vice President Bobby Evans discussed how Schlough “has the desire to grow,” and “isn’t doesn’t get satisfied with where he is at.”

When taking a look at Schlough’s early years with the organization, in a time where technology wasn’t as modern as it is today, the CIO looked and achieved some major goals. Schlough implemented wireless connectivity into the ballpark from any place, including your seats, as well as updating the wifi to make it quicker by the season. Schlough changed ticketing when he helped ticket holders sell online before websites and companies such as StubHub weren’t around.

“We want to provide an excellent fan experience through innovation, whether it be technology innovations or ticketing innovations or being more green than other franchises,” he mentions again to drive in the point of the Giants being a leader in the sports entertainment industry. Gaining respect early as a technology leader was key for Schlough’s career, as the Giants let him run his own department with the ease and precision he wanted to do it in.

It’s tremendous the impact Schlough has had on the Giants, but eventually that impact will affect the MLB as a whole. Schlough didn’t just stick with the roles and goals given to him when taking the job sixteen years ago. He learned the mission statement and let it sink into the work he did daily, pushing the boundaries of tech and changing the way baseball is enjoyed today. The statistics of the Giants attendance in San Francisco since these changed started around 2004 show an attendance increase of 1,376 fans and a percentage increase of 2.4%, according to ESPN.com. It seems most teams haven’t caught on to the trend of creativity the Giants have exhibited, but eventually it could be the Rangers, or Diamondbacks, or even Dodgers that implement a social media system similar to the giants, an eco-friendly stadium, or a diverse atmosphere like AT&T Park. Schlough maintains his usual grin throughout our conversation, as he humbly tells me, “There are a lot of innovative things we do here, and I think some of those concepts other teams will look at, but [The Giants] learn a lot from other teams as well, so I personally think in a sense we all learn from each other.”

It’s surprising the true Giants fans haven’t identified how different AT&T Park is from other stadiums across the United States. It’s also surprising that the fans take for granted everything the park offered, because it’s not shoved in your face. Whether you are sliding down the coke bottle slide, tweeting from your seats, or even composting some leftovers, Schlough and his team have made it so doing those things and many more is just part of the game. Today, the typical ballpark scene is hot dogs and maybe a batting cage, but at AT&T Park, it is positively farther from that. As teams begin to follow the innovative path of the Giants, who can tell what San Francisco will do next.

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