What we did
Whether it is your first or 100th trip to Wrigley Field, the moment you step within its ivy-clad walls, you know you are inside one of the great temples of the game. It’s easy to conjure the ghosts of legends here.
It’s that sense of belonging and participating in a century-long tradition that makes Wrigley Field a bucket-list destination for baseball fans worldwide. The Chicago Cubs acknowledged this allure with the Chicago Cubs Premier Batting Practice, an exclusive event inviting Premier Clients and their families to step onto the field and experience the ballpark from a completely new perspective.
Since 2021, the Chicago Cubs and Slalom have transformed the event, leveraging real-time data capture and data-driven insights to create a more engaging and personalized experience. The partnership elevated the occasion from a casual outfield ball-toss to a connected experience featuring participants’ names on the video board, customized baseball cards, and surprise scouting reports post-event.
“The Cubs are a Chicago institution—we love our history, but we want to innovate too,” Chicago Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said. “Slalom is helping us honor our past and innovate for the future.”
Behind the scenes: A winning team in innovation
For Slalom marketing director Kate Hertler, the partnership between Slalom and the Chicago Cubs and the team’s enthusiasm for improving the customer experience afforded Slalom the opportunity to be creative with the experience they wanted to build.
“We’ve always found our best solutions by bringing together all our teams,” she said. “I did focus groups of Cubs fans within Slalom and asked them, ‘What would make your dream come true?’ We sourced the ideas from our people, many of whom have been Cubs fans their entire lives.”
The crowdsourcing turned into an ambitious data and analytics project: combine the sophisticated data science and engineering capabilities in Snowflake’s new Snowpark engineering framework with a baseball fan’s love of statistics and the Chicago Cubs’ rich history. Make the event day more engaging with real-time analytics, and create a meaningful touchpoint after everyone goes home.
Power play: Analytics at the plate
The Slalom Data and Analytics team seized the opportunity to test out Snowflake’s new Snowpark engineering framework and use its Snowpipe data ingestion tool to collect stats from the batting and pitching stations in real time. With only four weeks to take their ideas from concept to production, the team demonstrated:
- How the right data platform can spur creativity and reduce risk
- How capturing and sharing data in real time can drive engagement and fuel competition
- How the right combination of customer-centricity, data expertise, and domain knowledge come together to create meaningful brand connections—even after everyone has gone home
Selecting the Snowflake Data Cloud was a key decision that reduced the amount of manual effort and coding needed, enabling the team to think bigger and more creatively.
“There are efficiencies you gain and risks you mitigate by using one solution with different features that are designed to work with each other,” Slalom senior director of data and analytics Jason Drucker said. “We created a holistic experience within Snowflake.”
People were so floored to see their name in such a historic place.
Leaderboard legends: Making history with every swing
The first year Slalom supported the Chicago Cubs Premier Batting Practice, they turned the video boards and all the LED boards in Wrigley Field into a leaderboard. When you took your at-bat, Slalom measured your swing and exit velocity and displayed the top 10. They did the same for pitch speed and run speed.
“The leaderboards were huge,” Hertler said. “People were so floored to see their name in such a historic place.”
The data team saw an opportunity to create more excitement on the field.
The leaderboards were great, but it was kind of a one-and-done thing,” Slalom senior principal Dan Kang said. “Many attendees never had the chance to see their name in the rankings, so we wanted to add something that would continue to drive engagement throughout the event.”
Instead of simply ranking the results and presenting them back, Kang pulled them into Snowflake in real time using the Snowpipe data ingestion engine. Next, he and his team aggregated the data and displayed the running totals in real time with a Microsoft Power BI dashboard displayed on the video boards. To bring forward some of the Cubs history, the dashboard also displayed a running total of hits made that day and challenged the attendees to beat legendary player stats.
This time, instead of just looking at a list, participants could take a swing and look up to see the rankings immediately update and move their name up or down on the list. At the same time, the Power BI dashboard updated the overall numbers, so with every hit, the participants could see themselves gaining on their heroes.
“It really drove up competition and engagement,” Hertler said. “People would want to beat a stat, so they’d do the exercise again and again.”
Taking it home: Personalized scouting reports for fans
As Slalom’s Data and Analytics team experimented with Snowpark’s data engineering capabilities, they focused on creating a personalized memento out of the data they would collect from the fans that would delight any baseball fan: a scouting report with their personal stats from the event. By creating a dataset in Snowpark with Python from publicly available statistics for the 2022 Chicago Cubs roster, they even included a comparison to a current Chicago Cubs player and an analysis of their player “type,” from power hitter to utility player.
There were challenges. Few ordinary humans can throw a baseball as fast and hard as a player in the major leagues. To level the playing field between event participants and actual Chicago Cubs players, Slalom data engineer Matt Byun normalized the data by converting the static values into percentiles. And because Snowpark supports machine learning, he was able to use its stored procedures, internal stages, and user-defined functions to train, register, and infer player comparison and archetype models.
“With Snowpark, we were able to go beyond the SQL-based transformations that have made Snowflake such a popular choice for cloud data warehousing and create advanced analytics insights using machine learning in Python,” Byun said.
A lasting connection: Strengthening the Chicago Cubs brand with data
For marketers like Hertler, the scouting report gave fans one more connection to the Cubs brand that was made deeper and more meaningful by data. It’s an example of how a customer-centric, creative data solution can make an impact.
“It extended the experience beyond the ballpark and tied them more closely to the Cubs brand,” she said. “That’s the goal for any brand-building you do.”
As one fan shared, the experience made an impact in her home.
“I cannot overstate how impressed I was with the whole Cubs organization after our experience at the Premier Batting Practice on Monday night. I had so much fun and loved watching our boys’ eyes widen with awe and excitement,” the participant wrote. “The boys absolutely loved getting their names on the big screen, and their stats recorded on their playing cards … We are honored to be a small part of a great organization.”