The 9-5 Pitch Strikes Out. The Winning Hit? Flexible Work

In 1918, when the Spanish Flu was ravaging America, Baseball gave people something to cheer about. Now, over a hundred years later, Baseball is again helping us learn how to cheer again – and this time Major League Baseball® has been doing it remotely.

PODCAST | 20m
March 31, 2021

™/© 2021 MLB

Executive summary

  • Host Melanie Green finds out how America’s Favorite Pastime is working and playing remotely.
  • Noah Garden Chief Revenue Officer of Major League Baseball® walks us through how MLB® has shifted just about everything they do to embrace a flexible work environment.
  • Learn how MLB® is planning for the digital future of Baseball – enhancing fan and employee experience while preserving all the best elements of the game.

Featured voices

Noah Garden
Chief Revenue Officer
Major League Baseball

Noah Garden:

You know, it's interesting. Oftentimes I can't remember what I had for breakfast or dinner or lunch a week ago, but I do actually remember vividly my first game.

Melanie Green (host:)

That’s Noah Garden. He's the Chief Revenue Officer of Major League Baseball -- this is a guy who’s all about looking forward -- all about understanding and valuing baseball’s move to a digital world. But he knows that going digital is more than ones and zeros, it’s about connecting to the things that we love and need, wherever and whenever.  And… one thing that I love is baseball. And I’m not alone. Baseball has been an important part of our lives for well over a century. The game has been there through wars, depression, tragedy and, of course, pandemics. In 1918, when the Spanish Flu was ravaging America, baseball gave people something to cheer about. Now, over a hundred years later, baseball is again helping us through a pandemic -- and this time Major League Baseball has been doing it remotely.

I’m Melanie Green. This is Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. We’re back with a new season. This episode is all about how America’s favorite pastime is working remotely. We’ll be pulling back the curtain on a business that has had to adjust just about everything they do  - from virtual fans in stadiums to new rules about  chewing gum and crying. And along the way, MLB has embraced this new world of flexible work. Now they’re planning for the future of baseball -- while preserving all the best elements of the game. That’s where Noah Garden comes in. He’s not just the chief revenue officer of Major League Baseball. He’s one of its biggest fans. 

Melanie Green (host):

Can you tell me about the first MLB game that you went to?

Noah Garden:

It was a game at what was called Shea Stadium at the time.  I don't remember the year, but if I had to guess it was probably 76, 77, 78. A couple of things that I remember about the game: first, my father knew Ed Kranepool. So we had the ability before the game to actually meet, and who was the first baseman at the time. So it was a big moment meeting a superstar, especially a superstar in New York. We also had dinner at the restaurant that they had within the stadium. I don't recall the name of the stadium restaurant at the time. And the most interesting thing is my first game actually didn't result in seeing a game because the game and ended up being rained out. We did get to eat at the stadium. I did get to meet Ed Kranepool. I did have my glove with me. I remember that. But the actual game itself, I never got to see, but it was still obviously a lasting memory and what I consider my first experience with Major League Baseball.

Melanie Green (host):

Given that was then, and this is now, what was the World Series like in Texas last year with limited fans?

Noah Garden:

I've been working at baseball, I think 21 years. So I've been fortunate to have a long history here. What I tell everybody is I've never lost that loving feeling. So when I go to games, when I get to walk out on the field, I actually get goosebumps every single time, whether it's an all-star game or whether it's world series. This year in particular, just really had special meaning across the board for me, you know, I was like everybody else in this world, stuck at home trying to protect my family from getting this awful virus, scared. Quite frankly, when it was time to travel once again, I was excited. But at the same time, I can't say that in the back of my head, I didn't worry about the implications of the virus. And we went to great lengths at Major League Baseball to make sure that we provided an experience for our fans, the fans that we were going to allow in -  that was going to be a safe environment.

Melanie Green (host):

Yes, I can’t wait to get back into the stands. Give me a hot dog, a cold beverage, and a great game. I will say, there is a certain comfort that comes with watching baseball at home. Baseball has been bringing the sport into our homes for a long time. Did you know that this year is the 100th anniversary of the first baseball game ever broadcast on radio? It was the Pittsburgh Pirates versus Philadelphia Phillies in 1921. Baseball on TV started in the late thirties.  The first televised Major League baseball game was broadcast in 1939 - between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers. And then in 1995, everything changed again: The very first game sent out live over the internet: the Seattle Mariners vs the New York Yankees. The way we engage with baseball is always evolving. In fact, tech is now allowing us to become more up close and personal with the game than ever before. Noah Garden has seen it all -- he was a part of the earliest innovations

Noah Garden:

The world's evolved right? The world continues to evolve and innovation sort of leads the way for all of us. And that's been since the beginning of time. And there are certain trends that we saw emerging in our business the last few years. Taking a step back when I joined Major League Baseball in 2000, I joined mlb.com. So my background was on the digital side of this business which we have more recently brought together with the overall business and the commissioner's strategy of one baseball. That said, there's been an evolution of the way that people consume our product and interact with us on a daily basis. In 2000, what we call the web and desktop computers gave way in the early years, 2004, 2005, certainly with the introduction of the iPhone, to the mobile transformation. And when that transformation happened, a lot of eyeballs went mobile and we were not caught off guard, but it had accelerated to a pace where it outpaced what we thought would happen. And we had to accelerate our transition. More recently through this pandemic, people have been streaming, but that streaming really has been confined, to, you know, the younger generation of fans.

I have four boys that range in age from 22 to 8. And I will tell you that my 8 and my 10 year old don't consume anything the way that I used to consume. And even my 22 and 20 year old consume in different ways. So, they were always streaming and we know the streaming revolution was coming and, you know, that's clear and listen, we were the first sport to stream our games in 2002. I remember those days well, and that said, what we didn't expect to happen, but was accelerated by the pandemic - and I think all the experts sort of agree, hey, we're headed in this direction, but it's going to go over time, the pandemic has just flipped that around. I mean, we just didn't see it coming as fast as it did. And the good news is our sport has been laying the foundation for that transformation and we’ve been working - we've always said, back as early as 2002, 2003 was if it has a battery or a plug, we want to be able to be on it with our content and let our fans choose the way they want to interact with us. So it's caused us to double down on some of the things that we've been doing and more to come, but streaming has really accelerated during this time.

Melanie Green (host):

Yes streaming. I love how all my favorite games are streamed by MLB. That means wherever I am, I can catch the action. And with the MLB app, there’s access to real-time stats so you are always on top of every pitch and hit. That means you can be in the heart of the action while sitting on the couch. And everyone can have their own experience. Check out this fan’s take on baseball 2.0.

Streeter Jeff:

I love baseball and to me it really comes down to a battle between the pitcher and the batter. I love to see the pitcher staring down the hitter -- and the hitter doing all sorts of shenanigans to throw off the pitcher. To me that is a great drama. And then you have the stats you know: is this guy a first-pitch hitter, how fast is that fast ball gonna be?  Is he going to throw a slider? To be able to have all the real-time stats right in front of you -- is great. That really adds a lot to that classic showdown. And the tech, it just keeps getting better and better. I think the next thing you’re going to see is like maybe we’ll have VR in our own homes and I’ll have the pitcher in the living room throwing to the hitter down the hall in the kitchen.

Melanie Green (host):

So tech is making baseball more interactive and accessible. But what about the ballpark experience? So just how is this season going to look from a fan-in-the-seat’s perspective?

Noah Garden:

I think it's going to look different than last year for sure. But it's not going to look like it was in 2019 - again, at least when we start, though I do think throughout the year we're going to get into a better and better position. Last year, we mandated nationally not having fans. It was important for a number of reasons. One, in the height of the pandemic, they have some young employees that walk around and throw Cracker Jacks and beers and sodas to the fans. But there's also ticket takers who worked for a long time and may be of an age that is more susceptible to the pandemic than others. I think what you're going to see is we've asked all of our local clubs to work with their jurisdictions locally and figure out what the right execution from a fan standpoint will be for each location and each one's different. We see it today, right? We see different things in Texas and Florida and Arizona, than you see in California, New York and Philadelphia. There seems to be an openness across the board, no matter where you are to at least starting the season with limited fans. I think that you'll see social distancing. My guess is you'll be in the 25 to 50% capacity, depending on what state you're in and the laws governing each stadium. And we spend a lot of time speaking to the experts. and, you know, listen, what they're saying is that they are very hopeful that probably by mid to late summer, maybe even September, hopefully life is getting back to normal. So I remain cautiously optimistic, but hopeful that by the time our post season comes around next October, we'll have full stadiums, but we have to be agile here and I'm in a position to evaluate it as it comes. So, cautiously optimistic.

Melanie Green (host):

Cautiously optimistic. I’ll take that at this point. And so will a lot of people I know. My friend Susie? She’s a longtime fan. I asked her what she misses most about her favorite game.

Streeter Susie:

There are these little moments and watching fans catch the balls and seeing kids in ballparks and just the whole experience. It's something we did as a kid. And  I remember the trips down. You know, it was a big event. You go down in the car or watch the Yankees and Red Sox play in Boston. I love the changes that they're making, but it's really just seeing the teams get back on the field with fans in the stands.

Melanie Green (host):

In order to have those magic moments where those kids run to catch the fly balls, there’s a lot of work that has to happen behind the scenes. Baseball is a big complex business, with thousands of employees across North America. And we’ve all been aware of the challenges on the field this past season, but in the back office, there’s been some big changes -- and once again, tech is front and center. Here’s MLB’s Noah Garden.

Noah Garden:

The biggest change that we've had to adapt to has been the remote work environment. That's what we all hear about. But our headquarters is in New York City - as crazy as it sounds, in January of last year, we moved into our new worldwide headquarters in Manhattan. 1271 Sixth Ave. Beautiful part of the city, right by Rockefeller Center across from Radio City Music Hall. And not only did we move in there, but we touted this new space as the space of the future, right? It's these open floor plans, a lot what you see on the West Coast and tech companies and collaborative. And so we move into this space that has all the makings of a modern day workforce and atmosphere and then you kno, the pandemic strikes. And so what does that do? One: we're going to have to reevaluate sort of the open floor plan for obvious reasons. And then the second thing is, how could we remain as productive as we have been in this remote environment. And I gotta tell you, I'm really proud of the organization. We have come together, we have harnessed all the different tools from all of our different partners, whether it be Citrix, whether it be different collaboration tools to allow both our technology group and our business folks to continue to work together in the same ways that we did before. Certainly not within the same room around the same desk or office that we did in the past. And I’ll extend that to really talking to our partners. One of the things that partnerships require is just close contact, constant conversation, making sure that we are working together, have common goals.

You know, we used to do that around dinner tables and at meetings with a screen in front of 10 to 12 of us at a time. We've had to adapt. We've had all kinds of different ways to connect that are sort of outside the norm, but it's kept us close and frankly, I actually think the communication using these tools has even been more effective and better than it was prior to the pandemic. And it's something that I've said a lot to the other owners in baseball and the team presidents that when we come out of this pandemic, I think we're going to be stronger because of the increase in communication that we've had. And that's something that we really don't want to lose as we come out of all this.

Melanie Green (host):

That's so interesting. On the subject of communication and collaboration there are 30 vastly different teams across the US and Canada. So could you maybe help me understand how that's happening using these tools? Is it individually, is it by region? Do you have league-wide virtual meetings? How do meetings take place in 2021?

Noah Garden:

I would say all of the above. But just to put a bow around it, we have different functional areas in baseball. We have the ticket organizations, we have our technology organizations, we have our on field operation folks. We have our sponsorship and advertising folks. So what we have done is had league wide meetings within each functional area on a pretty regular basis. Our ticketing group meets once a week. Again, there's representatives from all the different clubs. And this goes up to ownership. We have an ownership call every week with our owners, we have a club president's call. So we have these broad-based calls where we can make sure that everybody's on the same page and hearing the same thing to navigate these difficult times. But that doesn’t replace - I think you said it right. We have 30 teams that are in 30 different cities around this country. And each one has some things that are similar. We do share best practices in those broad based meetings, but we also still need to have these one-on-one meetings. Every local city that we're in is different. Every local city is struggling a little different and every local city has different strategies and go to market. So you still have to have the one-on-one conversations that we have, so I would say both in groups and from a one-on-one basis, that's sort of how we've been navigating the communication.

 

Melanie Green (host):

30 teams in 30 cities across North America. That’s quite a network of people to pull together. And for MLB, it doesn’t end there. The organization has set its sights on international growth. They’re taking the show to Europe and beyond. MLB’s Noah Garden is waiting patiently, ready to get that game back into action.

Noah Garden:

Yeah,  it's been tough. I mean, you know, listen, we have offices around the world, so we have employees everywhere and I've spent a lot of time with our offices. We've taken a hit. One of the cornerstones of growing our game globally, or continuing to grow our game globally is having live games. We just came off what was just an amazing event in London where we had the Yankees and the Red Sox played, we filled the stadium. It was just, the atmosphere was fantastic. And the goal of that was to begin laying the foundation for more and more games internationally. And that has come sort of to a screeching halt, unfortunately.

We will get back there. But what we have been talking about is what can we do internationally to keep the story going, to keep connecting our fans that are farther away from us than we'd like. There's food fests and there's home run derbies that we do from a fan perspective internationally. And we're hard at work, figuring out ways to continue to grow that business. Even in the middle of the pandemic, we opened up over a hundred stores in China -  merchandise stores -  last year. So business is still happening. We have to ultimately get back to having games, right. That's going to be the biggest piece for us, but we'll get there. We'll get there.

Melanie Green (host):

What will the organization look like in 5 to 10 years?

Noah Garden:

I think that like all organizations we're going to learn to work differently. There's still lots of conversations about when we come out of this -  will working remote, still be a thing?  Are we going to be in a situation where it's three days in the office and two days remote? But I do think, um, if you look at our technology, that part of our organization, you know, we do have offices in Colorado, we do have offices in California and we do have offices in New York.

As living arrangements change within the country and talent sort of moves around to different spots I think that we're going to have to adjust. The pandemic has made people evaluate sort of where they live, why they live there and back to the whole work-life balance. I think that you kind of have to go where the talent is. So I think that you're going to see a more broadly defined office situation for MLB in different parts of our organization. I think again, technology being one of them. You know I could see a situation where we have more offices. I could see a situation where we have some people working from home and remotely. I do think that that's going to continue to evolve for us.

Melanie Green (host):

I think it’s safe to say that Noah Garden knows that the fan experience is what makes or breaks the business of baseball. The good news is, this year we will be making new baseball memories -- in the stands, watching the sun set over the bleachers, with your phone in your hand checking out the stats on the batter and wondering if the pitcher is going to throw a slider. Or at home, streaming an out-of-town game  -- just chillin’ on the couch.

So let’s hear it for another season of America’s favorite pastime. It’s helped us get through some tough times. And we’re ready for a new season and a new generation of Major League Baseball.  

I’m Melanie Green… thanks for listening. And thanks to Noah Garden, Chief Revenue Officer of Major League Baseball for sharing his love of the game. Remote works is an original podcast by Citrix.  Subscribe and come back in two weeks.  I’m on a journey to learn how companies and individuals can thrive in work through 2021 and beyond, from getting women back into the workforce to finding out how Gen Z is getting ready for a radically different world of work. Next time - tips for building a more sustainable company.  That’s at citrix.com slash remote works.  Major League Baseball trademarks used with permission

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