‘Backstage’ with the Cubs: How Data Drives Success at Wrigley Field

Data Driven Digital Transformation
At Wrigley Field, the Cubs are transforming the historic ballpark, and the entire customer experience.

It’s hard not to like the travel side of my job. I get to meet customers and peers, attend conferences and events, and share experiences around data and digital transformation. But, as a rabid baseball fan, my September trip to Chicago was really special: I took a “backstage” tour of Wrigley Field with Chicago Cubs VP of Technology Andrew McIntyre.

I fell in love with baseball after visiting San Francisco in the mid-nineties and getting caught up in the excitement around the Giants. Luckily for a kid from Scotland, I had hardcore baseball fans to explain the intricacies and strategies of the game. And here I am in 2017, working with the reigning World Series champions and walking through one of the best-loved parks in baseball.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of touring the historic stadium, I learned a lot about the transformation the Cubs have undergone in the last few years, driven in large part by data.

The Focus on the Fan

When the Ricketts family bought the Cubs in 2009, they made three promises that drive all their strategic decisions:

  • Win the World Series
  • Be good neighbors
  • Make use of their best asset, Wrigley Field

Every decision, Andrew told me, is filtered through those three overarching commitments, all of which are about making the fans happy. As the business’s VP of technology, one of Andrew’s chief focuses is on using data to enhance the fan experience.

The idea of a “customer 360” perspective, using data to improve every interaction, is a hot topic these days. Often it centers on how to provide the best online experience, and how to anticipate what digital information or offer a customer wants at any given moment. For Andrew’s team and his historic building, that includes some unique challenges, such as using crowd flow data to determine the best locations for concessions and bathrooms to improve the in-park experience.

They’re also working to better identify which ticket holders are in the park, to understand what they want and need, and what promotions will excite them most. Which is much harder than it sounds. Groups of people sometimes go in together on season tickets, so who do you tailor today’s game experience for? Andrew’s team has been working on ways to better know who’s showing up to each game, and finding ways to customize the digital experience for that specific fan.

And that’s just the day-to-day business. The Cubs also have to be prepared for the kinds of surges that can crush a business’s IT infrastructure. For instance, in the 24 hours after winning the 2016 World Series, the team sold more than $70 million in merchandise, online and in retail locations. You’ve really got to have your IT act together to support that kind of demand.

Concrete Challenges

data driven digital tranformation
With Andrew McIntyre, I pose with the Cubs’ World Series trophy, Andrew’s World Series ring, and a Cubs hat. (I was overwhelmed by the moment, and trust the Giants will forgive me.)

I talk to CIOs all the time about technical debt and legacy challenges, but in our modernization at Informatica, and in the case of most IT leaders I talk to, our legacies might be databases or applications reaching back to the 1990s. But Wrigley Field is 103 years old. That’s a challenge of physical infrastructure that I’ve not seen before, and it can be a big factor.

Of course, Wrigley’s not a burden—it’s a widely beloved asset, which is why they’re renovating the park, even as they play, rather than building a new stadium from scratch. (It had never occurred to me that the team’s success was an enemy here, but when you make it into the playoffs, or all the way to the World Series, your off-season is a month shorter, giving you less time for construction efforts.)

Live from Wrigley

The day I walked through the park with Andrew, the Cubs were just going through batting practice ahead of playing the Mets (the Cubs won, 17-5). He showed me the Cubs data center, and the replay room, which was an intense media hub full of monitors and frenetic activity.

I asked Andrew about other key aspects of running a data organization, such as culture and staffing. Baseball is lucky in that it draws fans into the business, people who really love being a part of the organization. But I asked about the flip side, which is that when your team is barreling through the 2016 post season, and just now entering the 2017 playoffs, how do you and your IT team stay focused on work?

Andrew just smiled. The mission critical work always gets done, of course, but you do make some allowances for the level of excitement around the game itself. As I write this, the Cubs are just entering the playoffs. So I’m hoping he won’t have time to talk data with me for another month, at least …

 

You can learn more about how Informatica has helped the Cubs with their digital transformation (including a video interview with Andrew) here. And feel free to comment here about the challenges of data-driven IT transformation and/or whether a diehard Giants fan should feel guilty getting so excited for the Cubs.

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