Minor League Baseball is extending its partnership with FIS, a move that reflects the league’s push to incorporate technology into the fan experience at ballparks.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the two sides have extended their partnership through the 2022 season as part of MiLB’s Ballparks of the Future initiative. FIS—a technology and financial services company headquartered in Jacksonville—has its services in more than 20 ballparks, and MiLB believes that it is playing a larger role in shaping the league’s future.
“They’ve completely bought into the vision of Minor League Baseball, not only today but tomorrow, which is about growth,” said David Wright, MiLB’s chief marketing & commercial officer. “Their senior leadership has seen the value of the partnership since day one, and that’s really helped us launch a fairly sophisticated relationship that has grown into a long-term extension.”
FIS focuses a few areas of the ballparks its serves, including point of sales technology and more efficient operations for back-office issues such as business expense management and management of per diems. Some of these areas are not at all visible to fans, who may make frequent visits to the ballpark without uncovering any hints of the finer points of front office operations, but the concentrations of the technology often affect the fan experience.
“Every time we do something like that, they (front office executives) spend less time on back office stuff and more time on the fan experience,” said David Johnson, senior vice president, FIS Payments. “Can the consumer see everything directly? Not always, but it’s about making sure the GMs can provide the best fan experience possible by saving time in the back office.”
Through the use of FIS technology, teams will look to improve efficiency throughout their ballparks. Being able to maintain an efficient level of service, especially in the often fast-paced ballpark environment, is something that is key to the league’s ability as a whole to provide a positive fan experience.
“If you’ve been to a minor league game, it can be crazy,” said Wright. “The fandom and sheer volume of consumers in a given space can often be the difference between a great experience and frustration. I think the difference is going to be how quickly the fans can go through the sales funnel. The ability to go through that process in an efficient manner through FIS’s technology is what fans will notice, and what can improve their experience.”
In its current partnership, FIS and MiLB will work to develop a fan loyalty program. Fans will be able to use their reward points to bid on certain ballpark experiences, an initiative that—according to Johnson—is still in the planning phase and looking to a potential launch in 2019.
FIS is also working to make a strong impression right in its backyard. The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville—home to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Class AA; Southern League)—serves as the Ballparks of the Future’s flagship location and will feature FIS’s Innovation Dugout.
By renovating a suite, FIS has created an area where it can showcase its products and services in an interactive fashion. Johnson credited Jumbo Shrimp owner Ken Babby with being “a great partner,” and noted how the Jumbo Shrimp have embraced the company’s role in the sport.
“They’ve been great working with us and understanding the bigger picture with this,” Johnson said. “It was key for us who wanted to talk to an innovative owner, and who wants to break the mold with things. With Ken, as soon as what we broached what we were thinking, he was really excited.”
Now that the extension is official, FIS will look to build on its momentum in the sport. Reaching more ballparks will require FIS to consider the needs of teams on a case-by-case basis, and Johnson believes that the company is not only up for that task but is prepared to continue refining its technologies.
“As we’re learning in baseball, we’re working to refine, refine, refine,” he said. “We’re always listening to feedback from clubs and looking to take different solutions over the coming seasons. This is really round one, so it’s a matter of working of working to innovate over the next couple of years.”
For his part, Wright expects more teams to integrate FIS as the continuing partnership unfolds. The company’s commitment in its shared vision of MiLB’s future is something that, according to Wright, resonates within the industry.
“We are razor-focused on supporting our clubs on a day-in-day basis at their local markets,” he said. “I go back to technology at the core of our focus. When you think about next generation fandom, our ability to lean on FIS services to improve that experience and make it as seamless as possible is essential.”