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San Francisco Giants ride Techball to the top

Jon Swartz, USA TODAY, @jswartz Published 5:05 a.m. ET March 31, 2013 | Updated 12:16
p.m. ET March 31, 2013

(Photo: Sam Ward USA TODAY)

Story Highlights

 San Francisco Giants lean as much on technology as pitching, defense


 Business and baseball sides are benefiting from Techball
 Blend of data analytics, video, expertise used to win two titles in three years

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SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants begin defense of their World Series title
Monday in Los Angeles against their archrivals, the Dodgers. And, like last year, a championship
season hinges on lights-out starting pitching, defense, timely hitting and — technology?

As improbable as it sounds, it's part of the overall baseball calculus that has helped the Giants
win two of the last three championships.
The Giants are on the verge of a baseball dynasty: two titles in three years with a young team.
So, how did they get here? Moneyball? Hardly. They applied a mixture of tech and baseball
savvy that helped the baseball and business side. They don't have a cute marketing phrase for it,
but you might call it Techball.

The Giants are shepherding digital forces to become a national, if not world, brand on a par with
baseball's big boys: the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers.

STORY: Baseball teams' secret sauce: Data

Within weeks, the Giants will open the first social-media café at their home, AT&T Park.
Beyond the center-field wall, in what used to be a Build-A-Bear Workshop, fans will be able to
sip Peet's Coffee next to an interactive board with live tweets and Instagram photos. The Wi-Fi
network will, as it has every year since the park opened in 2000, get faster and more robust. If all
goes as planned, a new ticketing option will allow seat upgrades during the game.

The Giants are more circumspect about their use on tech on the baseball side, where teams are
fiercely secretive to gain a competitive edge. Assistant General Manager Bobby Evansoffers that
the team contracts more than 10 firms — among them, Inside Edge and Sportvision — for the
best available data, video and technology. The team was the first to use FieldF/X, a system
within ballparks that captures defensive data.

Within the organization, there are three programmers who maintain the baseball information
systems and two analytics experts.

"The baseball side is different," Evans says. "You can use technology in a unique way to market
a team in San Francisco, but you don't want to openly share what you do on the field against 29
other teams. We don't know how other teams are using technology, so it would be presumptuous
for us to say what we do is unique."

Before games, coaches, players and staff pore over video and charts to analyze the performance
of pitchers and hitters. The team's proximity to Silicon Valley has afforded it the ability to get an
early look at services that assiduously use reams of data to study hitting mechanics, based on
video; fielding range, through the use of charts; a breakdown of every pitch thrown during a
game; and players' effectiveness when hurt.

"We're in many businesses — baseball, which is No. 1, content, technology, customer-service,


community and entertainment," Giants CEO Larry Baer says. "And we have to be good at all of
them to succeed."

Succeed, they have, with a blend of baseball smarts and tech that ranks the team among the most
popular in baseball on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+. Plus, there are those two
gleaming trophies from title teams in 2010 and 2012.

This clearly isn't for show, even though the team is nestled near the heart of tech's heartland. The
Giants want to create a global brand, pump up revenue and continue to hoist championship flags.
"The Giants are at or near the leading edge," says Vince Gennaro, author of Diamond Dollars:
The Economics of Winning in Baseball and a consultant to Major League Baseball teams,
including the Cleveland Indians. "Technology gives teams a deep level of knowledge about fans
and their players. It's really applicable to most industries."

"The formula is simple: Enhance the fan experience, improve the team's performance and propel
the business forward," says Giants Chief Information Officer Bill Schlough, the first CIO hired
by a professional sports team in April 1999, when he joined the Giants.

GAINING AN EDGE

Economically, the Giants can't compete with clubs like the Yankees and Dodgers, who are flush
with cash from mega TV contracts. Baseball's big boys typically generate about $100 million
more per season in cable-TV fees. San Francisco's annual revenue is $300 million a year,
compared with about $250 million a few years ago.

As the Giants become more successful, their payroll of young talent escalates. The Giants just
signed reigning MVP Buster Posey to a nine-year, $167 million deal.

"Player salaries aren't going down, and we need to drive future revenue," says Baer, moments
before answering questions from fans in a live tweeting session from a Virgin America flight. He
is sitting next to the 2012 World Series trophy in first class while it is transported to New York,
where the Giants were founded.

On the baseball side, it's a "classic combination of scouting, tech and analytics," says Evans. He,
like his peers, says data used by all sports has grown exponentially the last few years to gain
better measure of a player's skills.

"All clubs have access to the same information; it's how you digest it," says Evans, who
discreetly declines to say what data the Giants focus on, for competitive reasons.

And that's just a slice of what teams study. The challenge is judiciously using data without
getting lost in the numbers, according to Evans and others.

"We are learning even more about baseball than ever before through technology and analyzing
data," Evans says. "But you can get too caught up in technology and forget about the players' and
manager's ability. You still have to play the game."

The St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians are
considered the most sophisticated practitioners of analytics in baseball, according to Gennaro
and others. The Giants, he adds, are particularly strong on the business side.

Andrew Miller, senior vice president of strategy and business analytics for the Indians, traces his
team's analytics roots to the late 1990s. Back then, it focused on medical data on players, and
strength-and-conditioning programs, says Miller, a former investment banker for tech start-ups in
Silicon Valley in the late 1990s.
Although most teams are split into baseball and business organizations, technology is a common
thread, says Bob Zweig, chief information officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He joined the
D'backs in 2008 after stints at eBay, Ask.com, PayPal and other Silicon Valley firms.

Arizona collaborated with the Giants, Minnesota Twins and MLB to make instant replays
available to fans in less than a minute on mobile devices at their ballparks.

The Giants' Schlough assiduously meets with teams from all sports to brush up on social-media
trends and to swap ideas. Every year, he and his team visit two cities — whether it be huddling
with the NBA champion Miami Heat on player evaluation or meeting with Philadelphia city
officials about rolling out Wi-Fi citywide.

The San Francisco Giants are one of the MLB teams to use Apple Passbook technology to
deliver single-game tickets. (Photo: MLB Advanced Media)

The Giants have carved a digital niche with innovations in ticketing. In a nod to airlines, they
helped pioneer dynamic pricing, in which ticket prices are set based on demand for that game.
More than half of MLB's 30 teams now use some form of dynamic pricing.

A longstanding double-play ticket window lets Giants fans sell their seats online, making it
easier for its 29,500 season ticket holders who can't attend every game. The Giants are one of
about 10 clubs — the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, among others
— that accept Apple Passbook technology to deliver single-game tickets.

Dynamic pricing is "our No. 1 secret sauce," Baer says. "For us, the question is, 'Is this a
business or a service?' In the end, we want to promote season-ticket satisfaction."

"Social media has helped us define this band of misfits" — the Giants' 2010 title-winning team's
nickname,says Bryan Srabian, in his fourth year as the Giants' director of social media.

BASEBALL'S DALLIANCE WITH DATA


Baseball is increasingly benefiting from advances in technology whose origins can be traced to
the airline and medical industries — in the form of miniature sensors, high-frame video
technology, battery technology and data mining, says Kim Blair, vice president of Cooper
Perkins, a consulting firm that builds tech products that measure the performance of athletes.

YarcData, a company overseen by supercomputer pioneer Cray, started as an intelligence-


gathering tool used by the federal government to pinpoint cyberthreats and other security risks.
Health care providers such as the Mayo Clinic also used it for fraud detection and cancer
research.

Today, it is marketing its Graph Analytics hardware-software product to Major League Baseball
teams as a way to predict results of pitcher-batter matchups to give managers an in-game edge.

"Pretty much all the teams buy into it," says Ari Kaplan, president of AriBall, which has done
analytics work for 20 MLB teams, including the Cubs, Mets and Dodgers. His company's
Scoutables software program sifts through mountains of data from sources such as MLB and
Sportvision on players and comes up with a list of their strengths and weaknesses, that is
presented in bullet points in a text report.

Clubs always have pursued a statistical edge, Kaplan and others say. Earl Weaver carved a Hall
of Fame career with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1960s and '70s by keeping detailed notes of
each game. The Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians effectively used data to discover and
develop minor league talent in the 1980s and 1990s.

Companies such as Inside Edge pushed pitching and batting charts to the fore in the early 1980s,
with easily readable graphics that showed "hot zones" for hitters and pitchers.

"Raw data means nothing until it can be presented and read," says Randy Istre, co-founder of
Inside Edge, which started in 1983.

At one point, the service worked with six world champions in a row (Yankees, Florida Marlins
and Diamondbacks). It now works with 15 to 17 teams a year, including the Giants.

Unquestionably, the Oakland A's rode the success of sabermetrics — the specialized analysis of
baseball through statistics — to a 103-win season and 20-game win streak in 2002 that was
chronicled in the book Moneyball.

"Give Moneyball its due," Evans says. "You could probably write 30 Moneyballs because every
team has its story. But that book captured a unique time in A's baseball and what they
accomplished."

Each year, teams are looking for a magical, Moneyball-like ride. The Giants have been that team
two of the past three years.

But for them to maintain an edge, the Giants concede, they must continue to innovate.
Longer term, there is talk of a ticketless and cashless environment, where fans equipped with
wearable computing devices — perhaps a band — can wave it as they pass through turnstiles to
activate their ticket or present it to a vendor when paying for merchandise.

The Washington Nationals have a jump on the competition here. They've dropped paper tickets
this year for season ticket holders in favor of smart cards with radio-frequency identification
(RFID) chips embedded inside and the seat location printed on them. Season ticket holders will
just touch the card at a turnstile upon entering the park rather than have a paper ticket scanned.

"It's (ticketless system) literally the wave of the future," says Schlough, who has studied such a
system at a professional German soccer club. "You have to keep moving forward, looking for
new ideas."