Guest post; Rick Liebling is an independent marketing consultant with more than 15 years of sports marketing experience. You can follow him on Twitter: @RickLiebling
After many successful years in professional soccer, most recently as the Senior Vice President, Global Sponsorship for MLS / Soccer United Marketing, David Wright has traded his shin pads for a batting helmet, taking on a new role as Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer for Minor League Baseball. Having worked two years in MiLB in the mid-90s when the game was exploding, I know it’s a lot more sophisticated than what you might remember from Bull Durham. I caught up with Wright to hear more about his new role.
First, tell us a bit about your new role and responsibilities at Minor League Baseball.
There are a number of components to the job. First, I will be focused on maximizing enterprise-wide revenue for MiLB. A lot of great work has been done over the last number of years to establish Project Brand (overarching national commercial strategy). I am tasked with building off of that foundation to increase overall MiLB revenue.
In addition, beyond what we do at a national / regional level, the role the national office plays in supporting the 160 clubs will become increasingly important. We are incredibly relevant in each of our local markets. That said, imagine if we were to increase overall attendance by 2-3% … that is not insignificant against annual attendance of over 42M.
Lastly, how we are positioned in the marketplace is critically important. Looking forward, MiLB has the opportunity to be a leader in the sport / entertainment space. From our progressive ownership on down, our collective ability to convey innovation, a willingness to the push the envelope, incredible scale and compelling content gets me pretty excited about the future of MiLB.
From a commercial perspective what are your goals and objectives?
It starts with an aggressive – yet attainable – vision … to be an industry leader in the commercial space and THE destination for affordable entertainment. Very simple and something that will guide all that we do. Also, making sure the entire MiLB infrastructure – regardless of your business area – buys into the opportunity and firmly understands their integral role in our collective success.
Short-term, we will be focused on refining our story and overall approach to the marketplace. The MiLB opportunity is incredible … how we communicate and position the opportunity is very important. In addition, aligning with the right strategic partners will be a big priority. The right partners that buy in to our vision and are committed to long-term growth will also support our push to drive enterprise-wide revenue across the 160 clubs per Project Brand. [Note – Since conducting this Q&A, MiLB announced a partnership with John Deere.]
Mid-term, identifying additional revenue growth areas will be a big focus. While somewhat premature to detail at this time, one of the many things that got me excited about this opportunity centered around the untapped progressive opportunities for us in the commercial space. MiLB provides tremendous value and ownership opportunities for the right brands.
Lastly, as the business grows, making sure we have the right infrastructure to support the business is very important. I look forward to that challenge!
What are the biggest opportunities for Minor League Baseball in the years ahead?
Half the battle will center around our need to remain focused and disciplined on those opportunities that are going to drive true enterprise value.
Clearly content and growing our overall digital presence (in partnership with MLBAM) is huge and will be a big focus. When you think about baseball and the current player infrastructure, there are incredible athlete driven stories to be told. I saw a stat the other day … since 1965, all but 20-something players to play in Major League Baseball played in Minor League Baseball at some point in their career. Every one of those players has a compelling story and our passionate fans crave that content.
Powerful brands want to align with ownership opportunities that A) speak to their business challenge, and B) drive measurable partner specific return against their investment. There is a lot of opportunity around ownable platforms; layer in our national scale and overall footprint, it’s a pretty compelling story.
In addition, I am really excited to get to know and work closely with Jacqueline Parkes (MLB, CMO) and the balance of the executive team at MLB / MLBAM. Clearly there are a lot of collaborative opportunities to grow the sport and overall business. No other sport in North America has the scale and overall footprint as baseball. Between MLB and MiLB, there are 190 clubs and consistent touchpoints to tell our story and to support important initiatives. That is very powerful …
You spent many years involved with U.S. soccer, how do you think your experience in a sport that isn’t baseball will be of value?
From a macro perspective, I think I will bring a unique perspective and “outsiders” view. While I may not be a traditional baseball guy, I am very passionate and intrigued by the business and overall growth potential. Despite great tradition and 100+ years of history, MiLB is like a start-up from a commercial perspective. Tremendous upside. If we are able to replicate at the national / regional level what our clubs have accomplished at the local level, the future looks incredibly bright.
Also, I had the luxury of growing up with MLS / SUM. MLS and the sport of soccer has made tremendous strides over the last number of years and has never been healthier. However, it is no secret, that was not always the case. Playing a small role in the strategic growth of MLS, USSF and other SUM properties over the last 10 years has given me true hands on experience on how to build a business. I am excited to apply that experience to MiLB.
What role do you think Minor League Baseball fulfills in the U.S. sports landscape?
At the core, MiLB provides incredible entertainment at an affordable price. In addition, and this is equally as important, our clubs mean something very special in their local communities. I have been on the job less than 3 weeks and I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to tell me about their connection to their hometown team.
Finally, as I mentioned before, we have an opportunity to be a true leader in the marketplace. While there is a lot of work ahead of us, we are well on our way!