The top priority for Major League Baseball (MLB) in the next 10 years should be growing the game outside of the United States, Sandy Alderson, general manager of the New York Mets and former Haas lecturer, told Haas students Nov. 6.
“I feel baseball hasn’t done enough to grow the game internationally,” Alderson said as a guest speaker in the undergraduate Sports Marketing class taught by Michael Rielly, Haas lecturer and director for student experience for Part-time and Executive MBA Programs. Alderson taught the undergraduate class in 2009 and 2010 before taking the post at the Mets.
During the two-hour class, he discussed many strategies for growing the game internationally, including MLB incentivizing individual teams to invest overseas and getting baseball back in the Olympics.
But "the best way to expand the international base is to develop internationals players," Alderson said. "The person who did the most to develop basketball in China wasn’t the commissioner; it was Yao Ming.”
Rielly, a 25-year veteran of the sports industry and former agent, brings real-world sports experience into the classroom with a lineup of guest speakers that also has included Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and San Francisco Giants Director of Sponsorship Sales Bill Lawrence.
Alderson encouraged students to pursue sports as a career, saying that the doors are open for non-athletes because player evaluation is now so data driven. Alderson got into baseball as a lawyer who graduated from Harvard and was working in San Francisco until one of his firm’s partners left to become president of the Oakland Athletics. Alderson followed as the team's general counsel and was later promoted to general manager, a position he held from 1983 until 1997. During his time with the A's, the team made three straight World Series and won one in 1989.
In addition to international expansion, another challenge facing the professional sports business is the ease with which customers can purchase tickets on the second-hand market, Alderson said. Many teams have run into problems because sites like StubHub often undercut the team's price.
But Alderson said this also can be an opportunity because if the team is doing well, second-market tickets will sell for higher than face value and teams can adjust and raise their prices. When it comes down to it, Alderson said sports is like any business: “You just have to put out a good product.”