Major League Baseball's Jonathan Mariner (McIntire '76) and Bob Bowman talk about MLB's first year as an ICE program sponsor.
“We’d been looking at ways to identify and address our evolving youth market,” says Major League Baseball Executive Vice President and CFO Jonathan Mariner. “So when Dean Zeithaml asked us to consider becoming an ICE program corporate sponsor, it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to speak to a much younger demographic about our business, and to get their input on it.”
Still, says Mariner, he was initially a bit uncertain about how beneficial MLB’s participation in the program would actually prove. “I remember thinking, after Bob Bowman [Chief Executive Officer of MLB Advanced Media L.P.] and Rob McGlarry [Senior Vice President of Programming and Business Affairs for MLB Network] agreed to participate, that I hoped the experience would live up to their expectations,” Mariner says. “I was a little worried that I’d hear a lot of pie-in-the-sky ideas that we could never even consider doing.”
But Mariner says that when—after a semester-long collaboration between MLB executives and McIntire students and faculty—the students made their capstone presentations, his apprehensions proved unfounded. “If there were two dozen ideas presented, you could probably take 20 of them and say somehow you could make them work,” he says. “We’d been wrestling with the role of social media in our business, so to see the depth and intensity of these projects, all of which took full advantage of these different social media outlets—I was amazed. Just to be really clichéd and use a baseball metaphor, it was a grand slam.”
More, says Bowman, who also attended the presentations, the students were able to convey their ideas clearly, succinctly, and compellingly. “Every presentation was well-thought-out, cohesively presented, and thoughtfully executed,” Bowman says. “I was supposed to stay for only half a day of the presentations, but they were so good, I told my office I just couldn’t leave. I ended up staying the whole day.”
Top Secret, Top Performance
Notably, Mariner points out, the students were able to make their assessments despite the fact that they lacked a considerable amount of critical—and highly confidential—financial data. “We struggled with our legal people about the whole issue of proprietary data,” Mariner explains. “So little is known and released about pro baseball teams, and, in fact, we’d just had a leak of some confidential information that caused a huge uproar.” But McIntire’s faculty members said the students didn’t need the proprietary information; in the past, they’d been able to complete their projects without having internal financial information. “As a finance guy, I was thinking that not having that information would have to be a huge handicap,” Mariner says. “But when it came to the final projects, you’d have thought they got everything they asked for. It just underscored the depth of their resourcefulness and ingenuity. The quality of the presentations didn’t suffer one bit.” Indeed, says Mariner, the students’ recommendations proved astoundingly relevant. “What surprised me was how real the students’ recommendations were,” he says. Looking at the summaries of the students’ projects, I saw so many different interesting ideas, all focusing on ways we could use social media to engage and entertain our fans. They nailed it.”