It’s time for D&I and supplier diversity to swing for the fences as part of the business of baseball.
Major League Baseball’s (MLB) annual Winter Meeting is where the business of professional baseball steps up to the plate. One of the sport’s biggest off-season events, it draws executives and staff from 30 major- and 150 minor-league teams, hundreds of exhibitors and scores of news media covering player trades and free-agent contracts.
The 2019 event, held in San Diego in December, brought together for the third consecutive year the league’s signature workforce diversity and inclusion (D&I) and supplier diversity initiatives, all of which help ensure that the face of baseball mirrors the communities it serves.
“We’ve all seen statistics reporting that diversity improves an organization’s productivity and profitability and that companies that have women on their boards have a similarly higher performance than those that don’t,” said Corey Smith, head of MLB Diversity & Inclusion. “For us, diversity is a two-way street. We help develop our diverse workforce and they help develop our business. It’s about furthering our game and broadening the spectrum about who our customers, clients and fans are. As we consider what the future of this game looks like, we need to tap into any and all of them.”
The MLB Winter Meeting showcased several D&I initiatives:
■ Take the Field supports women with collegiate or amateur baseball or softball experience who want to pursue operations positions, such as scouting, coaching and player development, where women are underrepresented. Sixty women participated in two days of panel discussions, workshops and breakout sessions with some of the league’s highestranking women executives and coaches.
■ The Former Player Internship Program helps diverse former major and minor league players transition from the playing field to front-office or on-field roles. Two-thirds of MLB’s major and minor league teams are involved with the six-month paid internship program.
■ The just-launched Workforce Diversity Best Practices program provides a forum for human resource representatives from all 30 MLB clubs to promote diversity best practices and strategies.
■ The annual, one-day Katy Feeney Leadership Symposium, which honors the late MLB senior vice president, is designed to help select executive and senior-ranking women enhance their management expertise.
Supplier Diversity Summit
“Our initiatives on the supply chain mirror those on the workforce diversity side,” explained Smith. “We want the best, brightest and most innovative suppliers on our team. That’s how our brand grows and becomes more productive and profitable” The annual Supplier Diversity Summit is a key part of that effort.
About 100 diverse suppliers participated in this year’s invitation-only summit, which officially became part of the annual Winter Meeting in 2016. Those suppliers reflect the procurement needs of MLB’s 30 franchise teams, which allocate most of their purchasing during the offseason. That total spend often reaches several million dollars. (Since 1998, the diverse spend alone has grown to nearly $2 billion.)
The summit’s two panel sessions provided a wide range of insider perspectives from diverse suppliers working with MLB as well as other corporations and from supplier diversity managers representing non-sports industries.
“Be a partner, not just a supplier,” advised panelist Chris Morrow, head of business development and strategic alliances at Los Angeles-based SodexoMAGIC, a food and facilities management joint venture between Magic Johnson Enterprises and Sodexo, one of the nation’s largest food services and facilities companies. “Understand your clients’ concerns, issues and priorities and what your product or service offerings can mean to them in terms of efficiency, cost savings and innovation.” He also underscored the importance of understanding customers’ buying and contracting cycles. For example, it took three years for SodexoMAGIC to win a contract managing the Minnesota Twins’ Fort Myers, Florida spring training facility.
Diana Castro-Everett, president of Success Promotions in Chesterfield, Missouri echoed that point. It took equally as long to land the company’s first MLB client, the St. Louis Cardinals. While she’s added another 27 MLB teams to her roster, keeping them isn’t easy.
“The demands keep changing as the industry changes,” said the native Colombian. “Jobs have grown from quantities of several hundred to 240,000, which is how many World Championship promotional rings we produced for the Houston Astros. Teams now have as many as 40 special promotions each season and the items for each one have to be customized. It forces us to keep evolving and bringing new products and ideas to the table.”
The paper/packaging industry is far afield from professional baseball, yet, as a second panel pointed out, it shares a common opportunity for diverse businesses: technology.
WestRock Company, a global paper and packing solutions provider, is seeking to leverage artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality. “We’re focused on ensuring that our mills and plants are running efficiently, with no lapses in production,” said panelist Keya Grant, WestRock director of diversity and international supplier inclusion. “We’re looking for companies that can help us apply that kind of technology.”
Diverse suppliers that, as of yet, have no contracting relationship with MLB are well-represented among Supplier Diversity Summit invitees.
“Forums like this help me better understand the mechanics of the procurement and contracting process in sports and entertainment and how it unfolds In the supply chain,” said first-time attendee Robin Billups of The Billups Group, which provides entrepreneurial assessment and coaching services and supply chain D&I consulting. “It’s about learning who the category buyers are and where the windows of opportunity might be.”
Roger Cheng, who’s spent a dozen years on the supplier diversity front for several IT companies, has attended two summits. “I’m leaving with a wealth of information about where each ball club stands in terms of its technology refresh cycle. Every company today is an IT company and MLB is no exception. Major league teams now offer fans Wi-Fi connectivity and mobile and e-commerce apps, in addition to ticketing, video streaming, player statistics and other content to enhance the fan experience.”
He adds, “Most people don’t realize that events like this are an entry point for possibly doing business with the 30 major- and 150 minor-league franchise teams. It’s an amazing opportunity.”