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12/7/2012
12:40 PM
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San Francisco Giants' Bill Schlough: InformationWeek IT Chief Of The Year

The Giants' CIO and his team are innovating in areas such as analytics-based scouting and in-stadium wireless, keeping the World Series champions ahead of the game.

Every member of the San Francisco Giants IT department has a 2010 World Series ring, and one day during the 2013 season they'll also get their 2012 World Series rings.

Buster Posey, the National League's Most Valuable Player, Pablo Sandoval, the World Series MVP, and 23 other players were on the field, but Ken Logan, senior IT director, Dave Woolley, director of strategic IT initiatives, Dan Quill, director of application development, and eight other IT all stars also made the Giants' Western Division championship, playoff run and final sweep of the Detroit Tigers possible.

This notion may seem over the top, but it is what they believe, and they can draw the chalk lines from technology initiatives to Commissioner's Trophies, from dynamic ticket pricing to the Digital Dugout to a World Series victory, like Tinker to Evers to Chance.

That's the magic of Bill Schlough, the CIO of the San Francisco Giants and InformationWeek's 2012 Chief of the Year: He believes.

The Player

Schlough greets me dressed like a banker, suited up for a short trip to HP Pavilion for the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame induction reception. He's chairman of the San Jose Giants, a Class A minor league team where he served as interim CEO from August 2011 through January 2012, before hiring his successor.

Schlough isn't just a believer. He's a doer, a versatile executive who meets regularly with department heads such as baseball operations VP Bobby Evans and sponsorship/business development VP Jason Pearl, as well as with sponsors he insists on calling partners. He often speaks at their customer conferences.

Schlough has been the CIO of the Giants for 14 years, but it seems unimaginable that a former Unix admin could run a baseball team. Giants CEO Larry Baer says Schlough was chosen to run the San Jose team because of his versatility. "He has a breadth of understanding of baseball and the sports industry that goes beyond sports technology," he says. To Baer's credit, he thinks employees with high potential need new challenges. "We don't pigeonhole people," he says.

Adds baseball operations VP Evans: "He has the desire to grow. He doesn't get satisfied with where he's at. He's not afraid to take chances to achieve big things."

The Innovator

In a business where all that matters is winning, what has Schlough, his IT organization and the Giants actually accomplished? Here are some highlights.

» Dynamic ticket pricing: There's no better, or more dangerous, intersection between a team and its customer than ticketing, which usually begins online and ends at a turnstile. And while it's difficult to pick out a single IT innovation among so many, the Giants were a pioneer in this area. In 2000, when AT&T Park opened, the Giants' ticketing team, working with Schlough and the IT team, rolled out dynamic ticket pricing, where competitive forces drive the cost of attending a ballgame.

If a game is part of a crucial series or against an in-division rival, or the pitching matchup is especially compelling, or the game is simply selling out fast for whatever reason, ticket prices rise -- thanks to software from 5-year-old vendor Qcue. Conversely, prices fall if the game isn't a big draw.

Schlough openly admits the Giants borrowed the dynamic pricing idea from the airline industry. The organization won't directly correlate revenue gains to the ticket pricing effort, but it's worth noting that the team's ticket sales have risen 7% to 8% over the past two years, an increase that also lifts concession and parking sales. The Giants have sold out 100% of their home games since Oct. 1, 2010, the second longest such streak in Major League Baseball (behind the Boston Red Sox). The Giants' paid attendance in 2012 came to 3.3 million.

Meantime, the team has increased season ticket sales from 21,000 in 2010 to 28,000 in 2011 and 29,000 in 2012. Knowing that season ticket holders don't normally attend every game, the Giants created a secondary online ticket market, called Double Play Ticket Window, in 2000, before StubHub existed. Working with a now-defunct SAP-Intel joint venture called Pandesic, the Giants invented a way to activate and deactivate the bar codes on tickets, making exchanges simple and safe. After Pandesic went bust in 2000, the Giants built the platform again in partnership with Tickets.com, which was subsequently acquired by MLB Advanced Media, which now licenses the technology to StubHub. While the Giants still make a small profit from Double Play, Schlough considers it a fan service rather than a business venture.

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