The Mariners announced they have hired a new team president to replace disgraced former team president Kevin Mather: Catie Griggs, most recently of Atlanta United FC, will be the new President of Business Operations.
As a refresher: the 2021 Seattle Mariners are a fun team to follow these days, but things got off to a sour note when team president Kevin Mather’s comments to the Bellevue Rotary Club gained widespread attention back in February, right on the cusp of spring training. In case you missed it, or blocked it out from your memory entirely, you can read a refresher on the reporting we did on it (including the full transcript of Mather’s comments and analysis), but the TL;DR version is that Mather popped off to his rotary club buddies on issues he had no business talking about as a representative of the team nor, frankly, as a human being, failed to notice or care that his wildly off-the-cuff comments were being recorded, and was summarily dismissed from his position with the organization whose reputation he’d spent the better part of two decades staining like a not-yet-housebroken puppy.
Aside from Kevin Mather’s inability to keep a thought to himself, one problem that became apparent over his tenure with the team was that Mather, from all accounts, was a business guy who loved fashioning himself as a baseball exec, with all the attendant glamor that entails. That’s something his position allowed for, as the Mariners, unlike many other clubs, didn’t separate baseball and business as two separate executive roles. In searching for a replacement, the Mariners were careful to separate out the two; Griggs will hold the title of “President of Business Operations,” and it’s safe to assume that sometime in the near future Jerry Dipoto will be named the “President of Baseball Operations,” probably with a shiny new contract in tow. But let’s focus on what we know for sure now: Catie Griggs is here, so let’s learn about her background and qualifications for the role.
Griggs is an ‘03 Dartmouth alum; post-college, she worked in NYC for IBM and a small marketing firm focused on media and entertainment before returning to Dartmouth to get an MBA at the Tuck School of Business in 2009, interning at sports management firm Octagon (Octagon represents Julio Rodríguez, among other high-profile athletes). A North Carolina native, Griggs next moved to Atlanta to work for Turner Sports, where she “led efforts on a number of Turner’s media rights acquisitions and negotiated and executed partnerships across their portfolio of sports,” before moving on to a VP role at a sports management start-up. When Atlanta was granted an MLS expansion club in 2017, Griggs was recruited to be the VP of business operations with the fledgling club (her most recent role, before departing for the Mariners, was Chief Business Officer).
With Atlanta, Griggs oversaw one of MLS’s most successful franchises, both on and off the field. Atlanta United made the playoffs in its debut year, and won the MLS trophy in their second year, a density of playoff success that’s probably difficult for Mariners fans to grasp. Unsurprisingly, Atlanta United has led MLS in attendance every year since its inception, and while the on-field success and large market for the Atlanta area are certainly a major part of that, Griggs has earned recognition in her field for the role she’s played in Atlanta United’s success. Atlanta United won Sports Business Journal’s “Team of the Year” award in 2019, and Griggs herself was named by SBJ as a “Game Changer,” for her innovation and ability to grow the fanbase to diverse populations, specifically Atlanta’s significant Black population, weaving in elements of Atlanta’s legendary rap culture with the club (there’s a supporter group called Footie Mob, a take on Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob, and Atlanta rap luminaries like Yung Joc and Rich Homie Quan have driven in the team’s ceremonial Golden Spike).
For Griggs, one thing she embraced with Atlanta United was getting to help build a new community of fans:
“Having the opportunity to come on board and get behind it early on, and really help shepherd that (inclusivity) and ensure that we never lose sight of the amazing things that we can do to bring people together, is something that I’m frankly humbled to have the opportunity to do,” she said. “I do not think we’ve reached the top – I think there’s a long, long way to go and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with my team to chase that down.”
The Mariners aren’t building a community from scratch, but the team—saddled with scandals like Mather’s legacy and facing the longest playoff drought in the Big Four sports—is in desperate need of a rebrand and re-invigoration. Speaking of rebrand, for you uniform nerds out there: yes, Griggs oversaw the drastic redesign of Atlanta’s home kit in 2021. While opinions were divided on the kits among the Atlanta faithful, again the decision was made thinking about streetwear and fashion, with Griggs saying: “I understand that the jerseys aren’t cheap...Creating a look that can be equally accessible at a soccer game, but that’s also acceptable to wear out in public; something that you can actually wear as a fashion piece, that’s important to us.” In other words, “it’s called fashion, look it up.”
For a team that has increasingly courted more corporate buyers—blowing out groups of Club-level seating to install pods centered around conference table proxies for holding meetings at the ballpark, blowing out the kids’ play area to create an Instagram-friendly “boardwalk” on the View level—it will be interesting to see if Griggs continues courting high-dollar guests, like the Angels have pivoted to in recent years, or goes back to her roots of sitting in pubs on Saturday morning with Atlanta United fans soliciting feedback from the most die-hard fans. That could pair well with the Mariners’ embracing of fan-led groups like the Maple Grove, the now-defunct King’s Court, or stadium events like Electric Eddie’s Barbershop (I still have my t-shirt). Griggs was also overseeing team operations when Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the United play their home games, cut concessions prices to more budget (and family)-friendly rates not once but twice, a move that might be more difficult to replicate in Seattle’s business landscape but would doubtless prove to be immensely popular with the fans.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Catie Griggs, it’s not hard to find clips of her speaking on a podcast or appearing on a panel about women in sports business, innovation in sports business, etc. With Dipoto aiming to be the “glass-door GM,” Griggs is a solid counterpoint from the business standpoint at providing insight on the inner workings of the organization. Griggs, for her part, seems focused on the community-building side of the job, which, after a team president who seemed dismissive of if not spiteful towards the average game-goer, feels like a breath of fresh air. From the team’s official press release:
“The Mariners are a team on the rise, and as that success builds on the field, we have an opportunity to forge even stronger bonds with the community,” Griggs said. “I will bring a championship mentality to everything the franchise does by focusing on the fans and giving back in meaningful ways. My values align very well with the Mariners mission, and I am honored to have the opportunity to join this organization at this extraordinary time.”
Or, in less PR-speak, this is from an interview she did with the United as part of a feature celebrating women in sports:
“Watching people come together - that is truly what fuels me,” said Griggs. “It’s seeing other people excited, seeing the positive impact that we can have on other people’s lives. Getting to do that for a job is the coolest thing.”
Here’s hoping it is the coolest thing, and the recently-arrived Griggs is able to tap into the weird and passionate and funny and creative and insightful and sophisticated and weird and emotional and definitely weird sides of Mariners fandom and leverage that to make these Mariners something we can be proud of, on and off the field.
From the Mariners:
Tune in to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Mariners.com tomorrow at 11 a.m. as we officially welcome Catie to the team with an introductory press conference.