The Seattle Mariners have pioneering team president Catie Griggs running their business operations. In helping to organize all-star festivities with Major League Baseball, Griggs formed a diverse committee of emerging leaders from the Seattle front office, many of whom are women. As the president and CEO of the Seattle Sports Commission, Beth Knox considers her organization to be “the great convener” for an effort that requires a massive coordination of local leaders and stakeholders.
In March, Iowa supernova Caitlin Clark made college basketball history here in the NCAA tournament. Less than six months after the All-Star Game, T-Mobile Park will host the NHL’s Winter Classic, the signature date on the hockey regular season calendar. That will allow the Mariners to collaborate with the Seattle Kraken, a thriving 2-year-old franchise committed to a culture of female empowerment. Its front office includes co-owner Samantha Holloway and assistant general manager Alexandra Mandrycky.
All over the city, you can find influential women altering the sports landscape, including University of Washington Athletic Director Jen Cohen; the Seattle Storm ownership trio of Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder and Dawn Trudeau, who saved the WNBA franchise before the team formerly known as the SuperSonics departed for Oklahoma City 15 years ago; and Seattle Seahawks owner Jody Allen, the sister of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who took over the NFL team five years ago. In 2022, when Russell Wilson was in a power struggle with Seahawks management, she approved a controversial trade of the star quarterback. It turned out to be a sage and re-energizing decision.
“It’s something that is unique and special about this region,” Griggs said of the gender diversity. “I am not familiar with another city with as many females in positions of sports influence as Seattle. I hope there is one out there that I’m not familiar with. Different people bring different viewpoints, and that’s critical to success. We have a lot of work to go to diversify not just gender but also race and backgrounds of all kinds. We’re getting better, though. You can see how much it matters.”
Griggs is a fan-focused executive obsessed with attracting people of various income levels to engage with the Mariners. She kept coming back to one word when planning these festivities with MLB: inclusive. It wasn’t just a boilerplate goal. It was a critical mission — a stipulation, even. If the Pacific Northwest city was going to throw a proper party, it had to juggle pomp, intimacy and coziness. Beyond honoring tradition in this 93rd installment of the Midsummer Classic, it had to create a sense of belonging.
The degree of difficulty must have rivaled parallel parking a yacht. But that needed to be Seattle’s signature to match its eclectic vibe and emphasize its post-pandemic rebirth. If organized thoughtlessly, national sporting events can engulf a city with spectacle and exclusivity, leaving behind little excitement beyond the economic benefit. This one feels more like a summer cookout within a parade within a star-studded extravaganza.
On Friday, the inaugural HBCU Swingman Classic, hosted by Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., highlighted a low-cost night that ended with a fireworks show. Because the ballpark neighbors Lumen Field — the football and soccer stadium with a large event center attached to it — the affordable fan experience dubbed “Play Ball Park” has a comfortable vibe. The Mariners were also “adamant,” according to Jeremiah Yolkut, MLB’s vice president of global events, about arranging free events around the city for locals to feel invited to the party, even if they don’t have tickets to Monday’s Home Run Derby or Tuesday’s game.
“Inclusive — that’s a word Catie Griggs has etched into my mind in ways I never realized,” Yolkut said.
Griggs expressed the desire, but it was an organizational vision. The Mariners, despite enduring a 21-year playoff drought before breaking through last season, have a long and distinguished marketing history. They know how to bottle excitement. If the week ends up truly being something for everyone, much of the credit should go to organizers who epitomize the value of inclusion. On their planning committee, the Mariners selected the proper combination of staff to minimize blind spots.
Their ability to see the old game differently could provide a template to help baseball present itself better. If this All-Star Game comes anywhere close to satisfying its inclusive ambitions, it will improve the elasticity of an old, rigid and often inaccessible game that is straining to change.
For all the polarizing adjustments MLB has made to the on-field product, it keeps plodding through a never-ending quest to market and grip a broader audience. America’s pastime struggles to be present.
With all of its sports franchises rowing in unison to move past the pandemic hangover, Seattle hasn’t had that problem.
“This is a golden time to be a Seattle sports fan,” said Katie Townsend, the Kraken’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. “In some ways, with the Kraken, we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s a new and unifying story for all of us to tell. With the Winter Classic, I think it’s going to be a perfect synergy of the Mariners’ brand with our brand.”
Sometimes the pro teams within a city orbit one another, careful not to cause a disturbance, supportive but not really close. But Seattle is not like that right now. The difficulty of the pandemic bonded these organizations. And the changing faces of leadership has enabled productive interaction.
“I think what I especially appreciate is I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great leaders — men and women — but in recent years, with so many women leaders, there is this galvanizing effort to make a difference quickly,” Knox said. “We’re not spending all this time and spinning our wheels on committee discussions and not taking action on those ideas. They are very dedicated to making a difference and doing it now — and that’s not to say that the men haven’t, but it feels like there’s a momentum right now because of that leadership style. That’s inspiring to be a part of.”
As a sports town, Seattle is rising anew, and female bosses are taking up space. Don’t dare consider it a coincidence.
POST AUTHOR: Jerry Brewer