5 Things MLB could learn from Silicon Valley

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Featured Contributor; Andy Miller (@andymillerhcp), President of Leap Motion

Silicon Valley has been blessed with so many iconic success stories that it is hard to select one company and culture that truly defines the Valley. From HP to Apple to Google to Facebook, we have literally seen the maturation of a dream of two tinkerers in a garage (or a dorm room) to global, category-defining Fortune 100 companies. Each of these companies have had a business and cultural impact felt far wider than the products and services that they have brought into our homes. Studying these companies in succession from HP to Facebook, one can very clearly see where the young founders of each new company beg, borrowed and stole from the success and culture of the companies that came before it.

As Bud Selig retires from his long tenure as Commissioner of Baseball and a new era dawns on MLB, I proffer up the 5 Core Values from the Valley’s newest defining company, Facebook, for baseball to beg, borrow and steal.

Facebook stated Core Values (with explanation from CEO Mark Zuckerberg in quotes):

1. Focus on impact

“If we want to have the biggest impact, the best way to do this is to make sure we always focus on solving the most important problems.”

Zuckerberg went on to say that this simple principle is rarely executed effectively, and, as a result, companies end up wasting huge amounts of time and money. For MLB, there are lots of impactful issues on which the League only seems to be nibbling around the edges. Obviously, PEDs spring to mind first. I understand that this a hugely complicated legal, historical and ethical issue well above my pay grade, but the simple fact is that my 9 year old knows what PEDS are and associates them solely with baseball. It is not just the integrity of the game and its records at stake, it is the future of the game and how our children will gravitate to, or away from baseball as they grow up. Finding a way to make the All Star game more competitive was not a waste of time, but it was not an impactful issue. Time to hit the big ones on the fat part of the bat.

2. Move fast

“We have a saying at Facebook: ‘Move fast and break things.’ The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”

Baseball is a wonderful sport. It has its own pace, and each game its own story. I love it passionately. I truly do. But I also love horse racing for a lot of the same reasons, and I know that each time I go to the track, I bring the average age of the attending crowd down significantly. Baseball needs to move faster. The game needs to be sped up, and the average age of the fan lowered. Games for the most part need to be completed in less than three hours. The pace of the game has been a hot topic for as long as I can remember, but the small rule changes have had little to no impact. Baseball’s rule changes for the most part have been iterative over the last 100 years, while the pace of life, attention span of the fan, and competition for entertainment dollars have shifted massively. Let’s break the rules: Time limits between pitches with real penalties. Limits on number of trips to the mound in an inning or game. No stepping out of the box or calling time for a hitter unless there is an injury, etc.

3. Be bold

“We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.”

Failure is not a scarlet letter in Silicon Valley; it is a badge of honor. Especially for folks who take big swings at meaty problems. There is an air of optimism, and, yes, a whiff of arrogance permeating the start-up community out here, that empowers entrepreneurs to chase dreams, swiftly pivot to new ideas, and to embrace change. It is hard to see a whole lot of change being embraced over at Major League Baseball right now. The old saying; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is old for a reason. The rules of business now dictate that you must “innovate or die.” Let’s experiment with how the owners can bring the fans closer to the game on a league-wide level by using mobile technology, locations services, personalization, and social media. For baseball to truly become a global game, MLB needs to bring the “would-be” fans in Bangalore to Boston through social media.

To riff on a Facebook term, MLB needs to establish the “baseball graph” – a global mapping of baseball fans around the world depicting how they are related. If they can establish these interconnections based on the common interest of baseball (no matter who you are or where you live), members of the graph are likely to share their passion for their teams, convert new fans, and surface fresh ideas to improve the game. Social media isn’t merely about broadcasting your brand message and increasing your followers – it’s about listening to fans and interacting with them in a public forum; some teams are trying but few teams are doing this well.

4. Be open

“We believe that a more open world is a better world because people with more information can make better decisions and have a greater impact.”

“Openness” is a term often loosely thrown around the Valley. It means different things to different people, but the common thread is that an open platform gives equal access to data where folks can take and add to the platform to build their own creations in other ways than the platform host intended. What an amazing opportunity for Major League Baseball! When the League and teams decided to fund the launch of the groundbreaking Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLB.com) in 2001, a top priority was to leverage the Internet to increase revenues for both the League and teams. MLB.com provides some exceptional products for fans, most notably the At Bat app, but far too often MLB.com is focused on making money from rights’ fees. MLB.com should not only make it easier for passionate fans and developers to gain access to data but ALSO allow them to create consumer-facing products in exchange for a revenue share back to the League.

The ideals of openness also call for the democratization of MLB content. In February of this year MLB finally opened up the video archives with sharing capabilities but let’s do more. Allow fans to create and share their own highlight reels and let the clips and animated GIFs fall where they may. Don’t let your legal department hinder the growth of the sport by making content rights a higher priority than reaching a broader fan base on the sites they call home. MLB outlets will always be the go-to spot for the best and official video content, but if they are serious about capturing hearts and minds set your content free.

5. Build social value

“We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on how to build real value for the world in everything they do.”

Overall, Silicon Valley is not about technology, nor about money. It is about taking an idea and actually making it happen. Technology is just a tool to make a tangible impact on the world. Ultimately, it is about people creating things for other people. There is real social value in baseball. It is about the last of the real-time, live events that are still meaningful in our lives. Every April through October baseball builds a new community of fans who come together to watch the season unfold for their favorite teams. Baseball creates excitement and, in doing so, forges friendships, deepens family bonds and brings communities together… a lot like Facebook.

Andy Miller, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He is presently the President of Leap Motion, Inc., and was formerly a VP at Apple Inc. He is the co-owner of the Modesto Nuts (Colorado Rockies) Advanced A minor league baseball team and a new owner of the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. 

  • stevie k

    What about Andy Miller for baseball commissioner? It’s time MLB stopped acting like a monopolist and focuses on great products and services for its customers – the fan!
    1.Anyone who owns a Single A team must be a huge fan
    2.He is a heckuva businessman & entreprenuer – building teams and collaborating with technology giants
    3.Miller gets big league politics and economics: he purchased and kept the Kings in Sacramento
    4. He knows the game – Andy played college baseball
    5. He has the right geography: born in Boston lives in Silicon Valley – home to 3 of last 4 champs
    6. Marvin Miller changed the game 30 years ago…let Andy Miller restore it.

    • Papadop

      College baseball? Bullshit.