Digital transformation is a common top strategic priority. Yet, far too often, underestimated complexity stymies C-suites and diminishes program potential.
Recently, fintech firm Broadridge found that while over 70% of surveyed executives cite customer interaction, marketing success and operational gains as top digital transformation goals, progress remains underwhelming. Fewer than 25% attained expected improved revenue growth, profits and decision speed.
Kari Escobedo, Seattle Mariners SVP of information technology, thrives on that challenge. Now halfway through her second season with the team, Escobedo spearheads a digital transformation that is the talk of other Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, sports leagues and entertainment venues worldwide.
In addition to sizable tech investments to elevate fan experience, boost employee engagement and bolster team competitiveness, the Mariners also prioritized leadership development, cross-functional collaboration and external partnerships. That integrated plan is quickly delivering results — on and off the field.
T-Mobile Park is home to the Mariners 81 regular season baseball games, as well as over 300 corporate events and concerts each year. Upon her hiring, Escobedo’s team was tasked to deploy technology to elevate fan experience and engagement.
The redesign brought many changes and enhancements. “First, we upgraded to Wifi 6 and 5G capabilities so our tech infrastructure can enhance fan experience via our mobile app, our website’s streaming capabilities and unique in-stadium fan activations,” Escobedo spotlighted.
Those upgrades expedite fan arrival, security screening and on-site transactions.
“We went paperless and cashless last year. While many places did it by necessity, we planned it. From a ticket entry perspective, we went to no-contact entry and leading-edge security. On our app, we added numerous activation capabilities to help fans understand how to best enter and navigate the ballpark,” she noted.
Shorter wait times speed visitors to the stadium’s many appealing dining options. Epicurean review site Thrillist rated T-Mobile Park the top baseball stadium for food and drink, labeling it “the benchmark that every other organization strives to meet by getting wildly creative and doubling-down on locally sourced strengths.”
Menu options include Cascadian-region craft beers such as Bale Breaker and Reuben’s Brews and Pacific Northwest food favorites Ivar’s seafood and Salt & Straw ice cream.
T-Mobile Park’s cashierless Walk-Off Market is also new this season. It’s powered by Amazon’s Just Walk Out and Amazon One technology. Fans can either use cards or the Amazon One palm scanner to authenticate payments and skip concession lines.
Mariners VP of fan experience Malcolm Rogel, enthusiastically highlighted, “Our fans love how this innovation has enhanced their experience at our games. We have received so much feedback about how fast they get back to the game after visiting the Walk-Off Market.”
The Mariners’ digital transformation offers CIOs and other senior business leaders three key, important and generalizable lessons.
First, Escobedo attributes the digital transformation success to management’s eagerness to learn, change and invest. She cited remarkable leadership candor and cooperation in recognizing tech implementations depend on organizational support. “We wanted to leverage technology as a differentiator to drive the business forward. My colleagues and I work together to find technology solutions that really fit our business process objectives, not the other way around.”
“In addition to better serving our fans, we’re upgrading HR, finance, business intelligence and sales and marketing applications. To do so, we committed to being a learning organization that embraces a growth mindset, innovative change and continuous improvement as part of our jobs. That required strong change management skills in addition to tech investment savvy,” she explained.
Second, innovation needs close, strategic partners to accelerate the journey. Escobedo emphasized that effective technology adoption requires flexibility. The Mariners instituted more agile design, deployment and feedback processes to find which workflows best serve fans, employees and partners. Such collaborative, data-driven experimentation expedites meaningful change and ensures lasting results.
Third, Escobedo specifically emphasized the criticality and value of reliable scalable platforms and trusted data pools. She brought significant cross-industry experience at Bartell Drugs, Kaiser Permanente, T-Mobile, Starbucks and Microsoft to her new job. That background helps Escobedo find and use specific data analytics best practices that ease new platform adoption and leverage data assets to bring sharper decision insights and swifter action to the business.
“They allow much faster time to insight and decisions. For both the business organization in terms of sales, ticketing and marketing partnerships, as well as our baseball side’s player selection, game decisions and health needs. Our platform must support it all,” she explained. Those investments are clearly helping.
“The massive data usage shows how much our fans turn to devices during games to stream replays, overlay game statistics and engage with our stadium features such as big screen contests,” she detailed. “We are now looking to use the insights from this data to help make T-Mobile Park more efficient for our fans, create memorable experiences and continue to be a place our fans can come game after game, year after year and love what we are doing for them.”
Escobedo also sees a bright and exciting future, noting by a baseball analogy, “We’re probably four innings into a nine-inning game of modernizing data platforms that will fully support our baseball organization and business operations success.”
The 2023 MLB All-Star Game will be held at T-Mobile Park next July. The baseball world will experience first-hand how the Seattle Mariners have set the mark for modernizing a day at the old ballgame. Who’s up next?