Leveling The Field

Major League Baseball batting for minority businesses

Major League Baseball is trying to level the playing field through a program designed to encourage minority- and female-owned businesses to form partnerships with the league.

As part of the league’s Diverse Business Partners Program, which began in 1998, buyers at both the league and for each team keep minority and female entrepreneurs informed about the products and services the league is looking to acquire. Through the program, the league has awarded contracts to certified minority- and female-owned providers of everything from transportation, printing, stationery, office furniture, janitorial and maintenance to marketing, advertising, public relations, and legal services. In addition, information is networked so that if one team needs a product or service, the league can provide referrals.

Through the program, the league has contracted more than $200 million with minority- and women-owned businesses from 1998 to 2000, of which more than $75 million accounted for direct business-to-business goods and services.

“The vendor would contact us here at the central office, and at that time, we’d have an open discussion about their service, their service level, and their ability to service Major League Baseball either on a local, regional, or national level,” explains Wendy Lewis, vice president of strategic planning for recruitment and diversity at Major League Baseball. “[Afterward], we come to an agreement on not only the commodity but also on their ability to provide us with it.”

Melvin L. Allen, owner of Unique Custom Framing in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is one of the 2,000 businesses currently participating in the program. For Allen, the experience resulted in increased business at his company, which provides custom picture framing and sells African American art.

“It’s had a tremendous impact on business,” says Allen. League contracts have represented roughly $50,000 for his business over the past four years. His business’ 2000 annual revenues were $250,000. Allen went through the program’s application process and was awarded a contract by the league to reframe more than 300 pictures to fit the color scheme at the league’s new headquarters on Park Avenue in New York. At the time he was awarded the contract, Allen didn’t have the high production equipment necessary to handle the volume the league requested, nor did he have the capital for upgrades. So, he had a friend lend him a credit card to purchase the equipment.

Once he acquired the equipment and upgraded his warehouse, he found he could handle larger corporate orders. And because he can cite MLB as a customer.

While Major League Baseball is the only major sports organization that has such a program, Lewis hopes that eventually similar programs will spring up, not only in other sports leagues, but also in corporate America.

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