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Diverse Business Partners
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Diverse Business Partners

MLB Supports Diverse Business

DBP takes part in NMSDC conference, business fair
Wendy Lewis (right) and Mike Spidale (left) discuss MLB's Diverse Business Partners Program. (Damon P. Young/

CHICAGO -- With the number of foreign-born players at all-time record high, baseball's diversity on the field and in the clubhouse is obvious. But, outside the lines, Major League Baseball continues to strive for a more equitable playing field.

That objective brought MLB's Diverse Business Partners Program to Chicago this week for the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) Conference. The annual four-day event, which began Sunday and runs through Wednesday at McCormick Place Lakeside Center, brings together thousands of business leaders from all parts of the country. All with one goal: Giving minority and women-owned companies a chance to compete.

The pencil you use to mark up your printed scorecard. The napkin you use to wipe ketchup from your shirt. The bobblehead doll bought at the team gift shop. The edge of your seat. Every single item consumed at the ballpark has to be purchased from an outside supplier.

It's at conferences and trade shows like this that minority and women-owned businesses get the opportunity to deal directly with those who make buying decisions for all types of corporations, large and small.

"We want people to know that Major League Baseball physically has a presence here and that we're serious about our program," said Wendy Lewis, MLB's vice president, strategic planning, recruitment and diversity, of her objectives for attending the conference. "We have some successes that we want to talk about and we want to reach as many people as possible. This is the best place to do that."

The one-day NMSDC Business Opportunity Fair on Monday allowed an estimated 5,000 participants to network with nearly 700 exhibitors.

MLB, making its first appearance at the conference as an exhibitor, continues to lead the way among sports leagues. No other league participated in the event as an exhibitor.

"It may sound corny, and it what's we say all the time, but the truth really is that Commissioner (Alan H. "Bud") Selig believes in diversity in the game," Lewis suggested. "He takes it very personally. ... He feels it's his personal responsibility to continue (what started in 1947 with Jackie Robinson) and take it forward."

"We want the other sports to get involved because that's what it's going to take for our vendors to really grow their businesses. Baseball is not only willing to be the frontrunner for this, but is also throwing down the gauntlet for the other sports to get involved."

In conjunction with the Commissioner's Office, representatives from the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers were also on hand to answer questions and court prospective vendors. The Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs also plan to participate in the week's activities.

"We believe it's the right thing to do," Mike Spidale, manager of purchasing for the White Sox, said of his club's leading role in the Diverse Business Partners Program. "It's simply a good business practice. When you increase the pool of vendors and the number of bids, you're going to get better pricing."

"It's a matter of being proactive and finding mutually beneficial relationships. You have to know who's out there before a need arises, or you'll just keep going back to the same people that you've used in the past. ... Anything that's purchased, we want to include minority and women-owned businesses."

Spidale and the White Sox called on more than a dozen minority and women-owned vendors for this year's All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field.

DeAndre Berry, manager of purchasing and Diverse Business Partners Program coordinator for the Tigers, said the Tigers saw immediate cost savings through the program's implementation.

"We've gone from a decentralized purchasing process, with every department buying their own supplies, to a more centralized procedure," he noted. "It's given us a more thorough investigation of the pricing/bid process, resulting in a huge amount of savings."

MLB's Diverse Business Partners Program, initiated in 1998 by Commissioner Selig, was "designed to increase opportunities for minorities and women to participate with the procurement activities of Major League Baseball."

From 1999-2001, the Commissioner's Office and the 30 clubs, which go through an annual review process to identify their individual program's strengths and weaknesses, spent more than $300 million on minority and women-owned products and services. According to Lewis, that total represents an average of five or six percent of "total discretionary spent" annually. She hopes to see that number rise to 10 percent and beyond by 2005.

"We may not be there as soon as next year," says Lewis, "but now we have franchise owners who have embraced the program when it comes to the All-Star Game and the World Series, and in their day-to-day activities, so I'm very excited to see that that level of the business recognizes that this is not only in the best interests of all baseball, but also those of the clubs.

"(Club owners) are really experiencing good franchise value by doing it because this has been a much more effective and efficient economic way to do business. When you have an inclusive market, you're going to get a better price."

And a level playing field.

Damon P. Young is an editorial producer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.