How The Cubs Recruit Free Agents

The Wall Street Journal: “Tyler Chatwood thought he knew what to expect when he met with the Chicago Cubs … He assumed he would hear plenty about the Cubs’ recent on-field success, their plan for him in the starting rotation and, of course, the boatload of money they could offer to lure him. Instead, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took the conversation in a direction that surprised and disarmed him: They recommended the best physicians and hospitals in the area for his pregnant wife … He signed a three-year, $38 million contract with the Cubs shortly thereafter.”

“Granted, the Cubs routinely have one of the largest payrolls in baseball, giving them an undeniable financial advantage over a large portion of the league. They can simply outbid the competition much of the time … ‘If the Yankees offer $130 [million] and the Red Sox offer $130 and the Cubs offer $125, most guys would pick the Cubs’,” one agent said.

“This is the secret weapon that enables the Cubs to practically hand-select talent: a compelling personal touch that goes beyond players’ value on the field. In many cases, that means appealing to the people most important in their lives—their families … This approach has helped transform the Cubs into the most attractive free-agent destination in the sport, an organization that players in its sights rarely turn down … More often than not, players buy it, rushing to join an organization where they believe they’ll be happy.”


Sportsneakers: Performance Shoes Trip Up

Quartz: “As sneakers have grown into the everyday footwear of choice—even in the office—for millions of Americans, performance shoes have been pushed aside by styles that co-opt their looks and comfort but shed their athletic intent … In 2017, sales of performance shoes dropped 10% to $7.4 billion, while sales of sport leisure sneakers grew 17%, reaching $9.6 billion.”

“Some brands have capitalized better than others. While Nike is by far still the king of the US sneaker market, Adidas has made significant gains in the US by delivering the fashionable, athletic-inspired shoes shoppers want. Nike has a deep roster of these styles, but its newer shoes, such as the Epic React Flyknit, still emphasize performance.”


Adidas Kicks are a Ticket to Ride

City Lab: “Starting January 16, Berlin transit authority BVG will release its own limited edition line of sneakers, a project that’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world. A collaboration with Adidas Originals, the sneakers’ tie-in with the subway will be immediately apparent to any Berliner: the heel counters feature the unmistakable seat upholstery pattern featured on the city’s public transit fleet.”

“The sneaker’s tongue will include a feature that’s arguably more striking—a fabric version of the annual BVG season ticket. That means the wearer gets free travel on subways, trams, buses, and ferries anywhere within Berlin public transit zones A and B— which cover almost all of the city—from January 31st to the end of the year.”

“Then there’s the price, which is a snip at €180 ($215) a pair. That makes them more expensive than the average sneaker, but much cheaper than a traditional annual transit pass, currently €728 ($869) for the same zones.”


Real-Time Retail: Fanatics Seizes Micro-Moments

The New York Times: Micro-moments “happen all the time in sports: A player reaches a milestone, has a breakout performance or is traded to a new team. Apparel companies have traditionally been poorly positioned to meet the accompanying fan demand as it surges. Fanatics … a sports merchandise company … is changing that and, in the process, carving out a lucrative niche in a fiercely competitive online-retail industry largely dominated by Amazon.”

“The company is similar to fast-fashion retailers like H&M, Uniqlo and Zara, integrating design and manufacturing with distribution to fulfill orders within hours. After the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, Fanatics used Uber to deliver championship gear to some fans within minutes … As a result, Fanatics has more than doubled its revenue in just a few years.”

“Among the micro-moments that highlighted the new need for speed was Jeremy Lin’s emergence as a sudden star for the New York Knicks in 2012 amid the so-called Linsanity phenomenon.” Fanatics chairman Michael Rubin comments: “When Linsanity happened, within 12 hours to 24 hours, there were no jerseys to get. So you had this huge demand, and there’s no jerseys available. Then you order them like crazy, and by the time they get in, the moment’s over.”


Slowball: Is ‘Big Data’ Wrecking Baseball?

The Wall Street Journal: “Baseball has never been more beset by inaction. Games this season saw an average gap of 3 minutes, 48 seconds between balls in play, an all-time high … A confluence of hitting, pitching and defensive strategies spawned by the league’s ‘Moneyball’ revolution have all played a role. That makes baseball, whose early use of big-data strategies was embraced by the business world in general, a case study in its unintended consequences.”

For example: “Statistics showing precisely when starting pitchers become less effective have prompted teams to remove them from games earlier than before. That has increased one of the biggest drags on pace of play: pitching changes. Regular-season games this year saw an average of 8.4 pitchers used between both teams, an all-time high. That’s up from 5.8 pitchers a game 30 years ago.”

“Radar and camera measurements of the angle at which balls leave the bat have shown that the optimal swing angle looks more like an uppercut than many hitters preferred. Hitters, in turn, have started swinging for the fences in droves. Home runs this season reached a record level. That all-or-nothing approach means that between each home run there is a lot of standing around and waiting. Some classic displays of athleticism—a daring attempt by a runner to advance more than one base on a teammate’s hit, for instance—have become rarer.”


Nike Hears Adidas’ Footsteps

The Wall Street Journal: “With the retail sector in flux, Nike Inc. is looking for new ways to sell sneakers and shirts, but some industry watchers worry that the company’s efforts to broaden its reach could damage its cultural cachet … Frequent online releases of coveted Jordan shoes could make them less rare and not as much in demand anymore, some industry watchers say. By making certain shoes available only through Nike channels or big chains such as Foot Locker, the company is diminishing the mom-and-pop shops that have served as community stewards of cool.”

“Matt Halfhill, founder of sneaker-news site Nice Kicks, which chronicles new releases across major shoe brands … said he has been involved in sneaker culture since the 1990s, believes the push toward direct sales actually hurts Nike’s connection with consumers.” He comments: “It’s a great way to sell commoditized shoes, but most boutiques even discourage you from buying on the phone. They only sell shoes in stores to customers, where you see everyone in line waiting for shoes talking to each other,” he said.”

Meanwhile: “Adidas’s resurgence includes new ‘franchises’—such as the NMD and Kanye West’s Yeezy line—that have gained a youthful following and made inroads on Nike’s cultural dominance. Nick Santora, a former sneaker-store owner and editor of online sneaker magazine Classic Kicks, said Adidas is more on point with youth culture of late.” He comments: “Kanye, for some people, for certain kids, that brand is now acceptable. Nike was always ‘sports, sports, sports,’ but if you’re over 11 years old right now, musicians are where it’s at.”


Game On: The Future of Sports Arenas

The Guardian: “With its own dedicated fromagerie, microbrewery and Michelin-calibre restaurant, it might be easy to forget you have come to watch the football when you are reclining in one of the premium lounges of Tottenham Hotspur’s new £750m stadium. The 61,000-seat behemoth will feature the longest bar in the country, heated seats with built-in USB ports, a glass-walled tunnel so you can see the players before the game and even a ‘sky walk’ allowing fans to clamber over the roof of the arena.”

“Besides the fancy catering, the football pitch itself has to work a lot harder, too. This is the first field of its kind designed to split into three parts and slide seamlessly under the seating stands, revealing an astroturf field beneath for American football, positioned at a lower level to ensure perfect sight lines for both modes of play. Acoustic consultants were brought on board in order to guarantee maximum amplification of crowd noise, ensuring a “wall of sound” will resonate from the 17,000-seat south stand.”

Christopher Lee, an architect, “says the next big frontier is holographic representation, describing a world where players might be beamed on to the field from thousands of miles away.” However, architect Jacques Herzog “says his focus is always on capturing the local specificity of the place, designing a venue that somehow responds to the fan culture of the team in question, whether that’s a glowing lantern for Munich, a sharp white temple for Bordeaux, or an archaic masonry complex of vaults and buttresses for Stamford Bridge.”


Nike Goes Local & Gets Physical

The New York Times: “Nike shaped itself into one of the globe’s most recognizable brands. Now it has a new idea: Go local. Facing pressure from investors and competitors like Adidas, Nike said Thursday that it was shaking up its organization to focus more on consumers in just a dozen cities around the world and on releasing new products faster in those places.”

“To keep its products relevant and make its service more personal, Nike aims to develop what it called a ‘local business, on a global scale’ and ‘deeply’ serve customers in 12 cities, including New York, Paris, Beijing and Milan. Those places are expected to deliver 80 percent of the company’s growth over the next two and a half years.”

“Despite the move to online shopping that is transforming retailing, Nike is not giving up on its physical stores. Instead, the company will use the stores to try to foster relationships with customers and further link the shops to its digital efforts. Nike, which is known for sponsoring star athletes like LeBron James and Rafael Nadal, will also try to speed up how quickly it designs and works with its suppliers to deliver new gear. The company wants to cut its product-creation cycle time in half.”


Footwear Revolution: Sneaking Up on Fast Fashion

Quartz: “A sneaker starts with a sketch. Before a brand can turn that idea into a prototype, it has to produce the patterns that serve as the instructions for the factory putting it together, and create the metal mold used for the sole. This process alone takes weeks. It then makes a sample, which usually requires more fine tuning. Several samples may be necessary, with the process repeated each time a new one is made. It can take a year before a final design is ready for production.”

“Now virtual prototyping is letting brands shorten that timeline dramatically … 3D printing is also hugely beneficial for rapid prototyping, since it lets brands skip the tooling step needed to build molds for foam soles. That alone can take a month. But brands can now print prototypes of a sole in a matter of hours.”

“Why should shoppers care? Together these changes in design and manufacturing mean they won’t need to wait to get the products they want, and it should soon be feasible to get items custom-made, since it will be easier and cheaper for brands to produce just one of an item … For the brands themselves, cutting back lead times will let them respond to the market better, meaning they won’t need to make vast quantities of shoes in advance.”


Brand Sagamore: Baltimore Walks The Plank

The Wall Street Journal: “Rising high above the new Sagamore Spirit distillery in South Baltimore is a white water tower with three maroon diamonds on each side, a nod to the jockey silks of the thoroughbred farm that provides the spring water for the company’s rye whiskey. The distillery, which opened a few weeks ago, is the latest endeavor of the growing business empire of Kevin A. Plank, founder and chief executive of the sportswear company Under Armour. His new enterprises — collectively they are called Plank Industries but nearly all have Sagamore in their names — are reshaping Baltimore’s waterfront and restoring luster to Maryland traditions and landmarks.”

“In March, Mr. Plank’s Sagamore Pendry hotel opened not far away in the Recreation Pier building in the Fells Point neighborhood after a roughly $60 million renovation. Outside the hotel, a fleet of new water taxis owned by Mr. Plank and modeled after Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats will soon ferry riders to Port Covington, the industrial South Baltimore waterfront area that is undergoing a $5.5 billion overhaul led by his real estate firm, Sagamore Development.”

“Inside the production center of Sagamore Spirit’s three-building complex in Port Covington, another three-diamond-stamped beacon greets passers-by: a 40-foot copper column still with a mirror finish that is believed to be the first of its kind. Asked why the finish was essential, Brian Treacy, president of Sagamore Spirit, channeled Mr. Plank, a childhood friend. ‘Because it’s all about brand,’ he replied.”