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Blue Jays’ exec tells clubs that data belongs in the dugout

Nov 30,2018
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Andrew Miller, executive vice president of business operations for the Toronto Blue Jays, speaks during the KBO Winter Meeting on Thursday. [YONHAP]
In increasingly analytics-driven professional baseball, the ability to apply proper data to the making of business decisions has become crucial, a Major League Baseball (MLB) club official said Thursday.

Andrew Miller, executive vice president of business operations for the Toronto Blue Jays, gave a presentation titled “Innovating through Data and Insights” during the annual Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) Winter Meeting in Seoul.

Miller, who pitched for UC Berkeley and has worked in investment banking on Wall Street, also handled business affairs and baseball operations for the Cleveland Indians prior to joining the Jays in 2016.

Miller touched upon how big league teams’ talent evaluation has changed drastically over the last decade or so, with the success of the “Moneyball” era Oakland Athletics compelling other clubs to also seek more cost-effective ways to acquire players and identify assets.

Successful clubs today rely less and less on simple eye tests from scouts in the field, and they have turned to analysts who can break down advanced statistics and apply them to make sound personnel decisions. Front offices are now crowded with Ivy League graduates with degrees in finance or statistics, with old-school baseball lifers getting forced out the door.

Miller said the exponential increase in player salaries in the cap-free MLB has put much more at stake for teams and has forced those with smaller budgets to find ways to compete against those with deeper pockets. The emergence of sophisticated analytical tools has also aided big league teams in that regard, Miller noted.

But he said MLB teams have embraced data analysis on the business side of things much more slowly than they did with baseball operations.

“It took another decade for the same data analysis to start getting used in business decisions,” Miller said. “That’s ironic because Moneyball is about using sophisticated business techniques to make baseball decisions. Companies that own baseball teams are using those techniques to make their business decisions.”

Miller said the shift happened once the owners started looking at business decisions - be it signing concessions deals, stadium leases or corporate partnerships - and saw that smart decision-making could only help with those multi-billion dollar deals.

“Baseball teams try to create a competitive edge against other teams, and we’re not that different from other companies,” he said. “We need to understand our customers. And with data, we have a much better ability to do that.”

Miller cited an example of how the Jays used data to identify different segments of fans - ranging from hard-core supporters to fans with young families and young professionals who go to games more for the social experience - and to develop different marketing strategies to cater to each of them.

Miller said the Blue Jays moved their kids promotions from Saturday afternoon games to Sunday afternoon games, after data showed them that young families were more likely to attend games that day.

“In the past, we just wanted to sell tickets as quickly as possible, and we weren’t trying to collect information,” Miller said. “We weren’t asking questions on what was motivating people to come to ball games, and what can we do more systematically to understand our fans. We’re now identifying unique needs for different fan segments and providing different experiences for them.”

Yonhap