He was Judge Roy Hofheinz.
Google him if you want. He transformed sports and entertainment, and that was second to the courage, heart and moral compass he showed in desegregating one of the biggest cities in the United States.
There’s a lot to his story. As a small character in it, I’ve always disclosed being born on third base, acknowledging obvious privilege and doing my best to not take too much credit for anything.
And yet, that’s what I’ll begin to do here. My Houston-legend granddad died while I was in high school, while I was living in Austin, Texas, playing baseball and thinking that would continue into college.
My grandfather was an only child, 16 when he lost his Dad, who was killed by a drunk driver while delivering laundry to a demanding customer on his day off. My grandfather came from nothing. And changed the world. So naturally, I’ve never presented myself as in his league.
My parents made great lives for themselves in many ways. Mom was the Hofheinz, the Judge’s only daughter, his apple pie. Dene is her name. She helped fill the Astrodome - my grandfather and his partners’ most publicized achievement - with everything that wasn’t a baseball game.
She also went on to climb hills of her own in the music industry, writing hit records and making formidable footprints from California to Nashville and back to Texas.
My Dad’s life was different. Scott was his name, and he wanted very much to be a mover and shaker like his former father-in-law.
When my parents got divorced, I was 5 years old. Mom soon moved to the Los Angeles area. I was a Beverly Hillbilly, with an accomplished family.
Before that move, I was hit in the head with a baseball bat accidentally during a backyard game. Mom rushed me to the hospital, and I remember blacking out and regaining consciousness while a doctor was sewing 22 stitches onto my forehead.
My grandfather arranged for an Astros backup catcher, Jack Hiatt, to visit me in the incomparable digs at the Astrodome. Jack brought me a baseball bat, an interesting choice given the cause of my concussion.
I was fine. We moved to an area called Truesdale. Older brother (by 17 months) Mark and I would spend the school year with our Mom and summers with our Dad.
Dad remarried in 1971 and would relocate to Austin. Mom remarried twice after our move out West. The first stepdad had that distinction for just six weeks. Bad fit. The second - six years later - was awesome. And in part because Mom had that soulmate kind of relationship, and they were moving to a new school district, my brother left for Texas in high school and I followed not long after.
I wanted to play baseball and not have to switch schools in SoCal, where my peers’ choices seemed more unproductive than what I sensed was going on in Austin.
Dad and my stepmom Marvel had a son, my half brother Jase, in 1979. By 1980, there were three boys in the house. Everybody adapted. I had great times on both the West Coast and the Third Coast. I got my driver’s license then and went to Houston practically every weekend the Astros had a homestand.
My grandfather, the person out front in the charge to make Houston a Major League city, was no longer a team owner. But I strutted around the place like I had as a kid at spring training every year around my late March birthday.
But I’ve digressed a lot here. The point is, I have a pretty amazing history. Our family had drama, tragedies, scandals, hilarity, dysfunction, highest-profile politics and big-business life lessons.
Back to my Dad. Dad made a name for himself in business, developing data systems and doing deals related to energy and real estate. He had competed in rodeos, played football as a prized recruit of Darrel Royal at Texas, and - out of character - once kicked a guy’s ass at an intersection for calling him four eyes.
He was 6-foot-4 and a person of undying faith. That’s what got him through the rest of his circuitous journey.
Before I turned 21 - my third year at Baylor, where I wasn’t enough of a stud to keep playing baseball but did stand out in journalism (a field I took to in high school) - Dad and the S&L business he put together were under serious scrutiny.
It was big trouble that would last the rest of his life, including an exhaustive legal process that couldn’t keep him from incarceration and all that the aftermath entailed. Everything about his existence would never be the same. Except his spirit, which soared despite significant evidence that he had the right to be bitter.
This I share because it’s all a backdrop juxtaposed with who I am, how I go about trying to create value, to how I’ve embraced opportunities gratefully and mindful of all parties involved.
I’ve seen greatness. I’ve seen success at enviable levels. I’ve seen greed galore. I’ve seen the damage ego and obsession with control can do. I’ve seen my father have a lung transplant, walk the halls a few hours later and fight for his life against repeated organ rejection.
I’ve seen my Mom suffer unfathomable post-traumatic stress from a middle-of-the-night blaze and backdraft that killed the love of her life and slammed her against a brick wall as she screamed in vain to save him.
That was in late 2000. I had accepted a chance to move from Kansas City to New York when that horror happened. My wife Betsy and I had three daughters (Caroline, Annabeth and Holly), and the person who advised me the most profoundly in that opportunity had been my stepfather.
I was at his funeral wondering about everything, begging for signs that he was still with us, that somehow his wisdom and spirit were permanent and on call.
The next Monday, having felt only numbness at the memorial, I prayed like never before, heartbroken about the void in our family and in a world that was made better by this legendary kind-hearted music executive.
His name was Ron Anton. I prayed for any kind of sign of his presence.
Ron was a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, the beloved home team from his childhood stomping grounds. That night, The Pack was on Monday Night Football. I had the game on.
This will sound stupid to some people. It wasn’t to me. It was miraculous. Something as meaningless as a play on a ballfield is a play on a ballfield and nothing more. With all due respect to those who think that way: Bullshit.
Antonio Freeman made a dramatic catch that defied gravity in that game. He still signs autographs about this famous catch. The Catch. Well, you can’t spell Ron Anton without Antonio Freeman, and I’m riding that moment all the way to eternity.
The play freed this Mann from obsession about whether the end is the end. You don’t have to believe in everlasting ascension beyond skin and bones. But I do, and I got that bell ring.
So here I was, a 35-year-old husband and Dad who had been born on third base and parlayed it into being back in the dugout, feeling like I was way behind in the game.
But with the Commish’s catchphrase, hope and faith.
I had spent 12 years in the newspaper business, not working for my grandfather and not working for my Dad. I had spent summers working on a ranch in South Texas, working on construction sites doing dry wall, collecting trash, sweeping dust. I had worked at a record store when CDs were introduced. I sold a car I didn’t deserve in the first place. I was paying my dues.
In applying for an executive opening at something called MLB Advanced Media, back in 2000, I was deeply energized. A newsroom peer had told me, “You’re too ambitious for this business.” I thought that was odd. But it was accurate. I was too ambitious for the legacy mindset in that world.
So where would I go?
I put every trace of energy I had into making a great impression with the people leading the search at MLBAM and at the Office of the Commissioner, led by Bud Selig and Bob DuPuy.
MLBAM was Commissioner Selig’s brainchild. It represented my chance to channel my Astrodome, to try to change sports and entertainment in the next century the way the Eighth Wonder of the World did in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Betsy and I had gotten married a decade earlier, and in that time we moved like vagabond assistant coaches from Missouri to Texas to Arizona, Texas again, Georgia and Kansas, all for modest raises and once because of a sold and folded paper.
This was the future. This was me realizing my grandfather wasn’t rolling over in his grave (an unmarked one for 40 years, by the way, which is another story) but rather, he was whispering from it, something like, “What took you so long?”
So, I’m five years shy of 40, picturing Judge Hofheinz with a cigar, cracking a smile on his half paralyzed face, then saying: “Go get ‘em, little Bo, and watch out for the rascals.”
My grandfather, you see, had gotten tons of attention back in the day. He sought it, too, quite frankly. I think he underestimated how that might be received by other people of importance in both baseball and business.
But he was unconcerned, and on top of that he didn’t take very good care of himself physically. Diet and exercise? His mind was his muscle. That would prove costly. Even more consequential in his empire slipping away was the death of his wife (Nani to us grandkids), the mother of his children and the revered companion who kept him centered.
My grandfather had remarried, and from then on his decline was as sharp as the Dome was round.
My preparation for the move to New York, for the excitement of a worldwide audience, for a seat at the table with Major League owners and the Commissioner, was second to none.
I was born to ace that test.
Betsy was and is my rock. She always has balanced her own work, her patience with me, the collaborative parenting of our kids (now four of them, the youngest a son named Roy), the sorrow of several miscarriages, the stress of moves, in ways that have me awestruck. With that, nothing intimidated.
A Mountain called Baseball was ours to live on.
But I wasn’t there to plateau. I was there to help make it taller, to embrace assignments and to share any views the circumstances inspired.
It was a visionary dream.
Didn’t mean to write this like a book. Yet, that’s part of what I’m here to tell you. Our stories matter. Our qualifications matter. How we tick matters. Where we can go together is limitless if the course is charted and navigated with strength.
I spent 17 years as an executive at MLBAM and had the honor of leading hundreds of colleagues and working in a formidable brain trust that created billions of dollars of value on top of a magnificent foundation called Major League Baseball.
That’s what I brought to the table, a mindset that was all in on the charge to serve the industry with cutting-edge technology, interactive tools, and with efficient distribution of intellectual property in market, out of market and worldwide - and without any dreaded cannibalization.
In doing so, it was clear to me that we had an edge in part because of our independence and start-up culture. We had to get by on multitasking and pivots. We had to make progress despite major flaws in the initial platform. We had to be our best for massively high-profile brands, stakeholders as well as customers and prospective partners - or we’d lose miserably.
In pushing the envelope and launching products, we learned to fail fast, to operate tirelessly and to innovate and prioritize as if our reputations depended on it. Because they did.
When I departed my final stop in the business of traditional news organizations, I was referred to by my former boss as “a force of nature.” I’d never been happier with a description of what I am. The key was to harness that impact consistently and in ways that shape success.
We were first in many advancements in those years at MLBAM. We streamed live feeds of games, radio and TV, before and then better than anybody. We chose subcontractors wisely. We accelerated ticket sales from box offices to handheld devices proactively. We valued interactions with fans and the formation of useful databases ahead of competitors. We recognized the shifting needs of sponsors ahead of the curve. We had a robust assortment of products, from physical goods to games, from snackable to creative and competitive content. All done with fiscal restraint and accountable ambition.
We were a virtual super stadium, and we were always open. We respected our employees, our customers, our owners and the players and coaches on the fields.
The multipurpose ballpark metaphor is significantly relevant.
We caught the attention of fans and leaders affiliated with other leagues, naturally. We took meetings and compared notes with others in the space, none organized as we were with a separate entity hatched by the sport’s commissioner, president and team owners.
Just as we were hitting a stride, knowing certain tech hiccups were behind us, we raised the bar further. When a representative of AEG named Ken Krasner paid a visit, I met with him, learning he was a Yankees fan living in Los Angeles. He was a subscriber to MLB.TV, an offering that was turning heads in all the right ways.
We discussed the capabilities we had to host this ecosystem for MLB. Ken volunteered that he believed Major League Soccer would be receptive to considering our solution as one that might work wonders for MLS if that were part of our road map.
Because we had been mobilizing to serve Minor League Baseball (not contemplated in 2001, even though it was the same sport we already managed), we had begun the process of allocating resources to white label our back end and enhance our capabilities to do what Ken was pondering.
So we worked on it more, even if it meant preaching this gospel to people who thought they went to work at baseball and baseball alone. Somebody had to try to make sense of personnel and opportunity cost benefits of the undertaking. I took to it like the Astrodome had bear-hugged football, boxing, tennis, basketball, rodeos, concerts and filmmaking.
And the rest is no mystery.
Even though MLS was a work-for-hire model, followed by AVP and websites for bands and athletes, we were onto platform development that would serve us and our backers in at least two ways. We had a landscape on which we could experiment with features to help MLB. But more, we had the license to form an asset that eventually might catch the wide eyes of suitors.
MLBAM was never going to have an exit. That was clear to those of us in quarterly board meetings with a third of MLB owners. MLBAM, however, realistically had a chance to structure a smart spin-off and keep the company designed in the first place to optimize MLB’s interactive revenue streams, requirements and go-forward dealings.
I was one of two of the longest tenured Executive VPs - the other was Noah Garden, who was responsible for Sales - working for Bob Bowman, a game changer with ingenuity like no one with whom I’d ever flown. What we accomplished was inimitably memorable. It wasn’t my way to beat my chest and brag on social or in traditional media. I saw what that sort of self promotion had done to my grandfather. My way of best presenting myself was to make others look good, to make the most of any assignment, to manage and motivate staff and to demonstrate a slow heartbeat externally with officials from every team and our partners.
Operating what we did was so great in many ways that it felt more like an out of body experience. People would ask, “How’s it going?” My answer every time: “Living the dream.” It was true.
We were not only racking up awards for the products and team at MLB Advanced Media. But we had created highly coveted jobs and roles for hundreds of people across the core categories of our business, and we were powering vaunted verticals in Over The Top media: A Who’s-Who of IP royalty. WWE, HBO Max, NHL Network, CBS Sports and ESPN were among the world-class clients benefiting from our technology and associated services.
And I got to work on projects with many ultra bright contacts and colleagues. My favorite bucket-list endeavor (ahead even of meetings with countless Hall of Famers, interviews with Rihanna and Bono, and viral quality time with Paul Rudd, Bill Murray and guests on “Express Written Consent”) was our orchestration of “Ferrell Takes The Field,” a movie in which Will Ferrell played for 10 teams in one day at Spring Training in Arizona. As a kid who had passed up the chance to be an extra in “The Bad News Bears” (yes, I have regrets), this was make-up flex.
The bottom line, we got superb things done. Every year. Baseball was a canvas. Content was reachable in every color.
Riffing and refining undertakings was a specialty, where I had the most fun, where I could put the fit and finish on a presentation, proposal or product.
Statcast was that in a nutshell. All the moving parts of baseball are fascinating. I often have said: Baseball makes you smarter. Life is all about the math, like business, and everything anybody pursues should involve calculations. We didn’t just throw paint against the wall. We needed to know where it should land, plus the spin rate and exit velocity that would get it there as designed.
“In play, run(s),” is the title of my reality show. We were artificially intelligent and didn’t stop to know it.
Always getting my way isn’t a necessity, and it’s both impossible and wrong for that to be a leader’s wiring. My kids, to be honest, remind me of this as only kids who love their parents can. They rule. And so did certain others.
I discussed with ESPN what they’d call their OTT product. My suggestion was ESPN Select and Disney Select. They went with Disney+ and ESPN+. Who was I to argue? After all, they were the ones buying our baby, BAM Tech, and as the final tally played out over a number of years, they paid $3 billion+ for it.
Looking back isn’t for everybody. I probably haven’t done it enough. That’s kind of because I enjoy the Disney version of many stories. The Scorcese way of retracing history, don’t get me wrong, definitely has its place when the mood is for an “Ozark” or “Barry” impact. But the subject here is me, and until I green light a scripted series on our family history, and maybe even then, the “It’s A Wonderful Life” reflections I have are what you’re going to get.
Windshields are much larger than rearview mirrors. Those proportions are instructive. Drive forward.
Which brings us to now.
My contract at MLB expired after the 2017 season. The industry rewarded me very well. I was in a Field of Dreams, one of our collective making. Many of my best friends in the world are still there. It was a time for others to give the game their best shot. I remain a fan and supporter of the baseball life, from Commissioner Rob Manfred (my congratulatory email to him when he got the job noted his signature’s distinguished forthcoming place on all the Major League Baseballs), to the owners, teams, baseball operations devotees, content producers, revenue generators, technology trail blazers to the next waves of interns. And the players, of course, players on their way up, in their prime and forever owning their legacies.
The departure I had was not without some attention. That’s business. A period of enlightening discovery was juxtaposed with me taking care of my Dad in the months before he passed away. You gain a lot of perspective from closure. My Dad departed, but my journey perpetually includes his presence and that of loved ones before and since.
Baseball couldn’t leave me, and I didn’t leave it. So many seasons, games, runs, pitches, hits, errors, milestones and scoreboard spectaculars. We won. We had replay review. Even that proved amicable.The best thing I’ve ever learned in this world is that the secret of life is to find joy in what it presents.That is what the current and following chapters are here to assure.Joy is in the pursuit of greatness.
I spent the pandemic studying the landscape of influence, the creator economy, technology, distribution and engagement. My favorite book in that window was “That Will Never Work” about the making of Netflix.It was illuminating from the standpoint of customer acquisition, the determination of viable communities, the emphasis on team, culture, negotiations, fundraising, stakeholders and sustainability. And, making your luck. Which is to say, forming not just capital and a game plan, but a family. No clubhouse poison. Build a business that people love, that people inside and out look forward to frequenting repeatedly.
Goatnet is arriving with that as its mission. I’ve had more Zooms than meals in the last two years. We’re having fun, and we’re focused on what it means to set up the greatest of all time network. The answer is in the upside for its communities.
We have the combination of infectious energy, key strategic relationships, a track record of disciplined product development and investors who bring value that’s exceptionally deep. We also bring the lessons of prioritization and innovating by proven winners in the field.
But not people who plateaued there. Not people who all look alike.
People who believe in helping others find their goats, their greatest selves, people who don’t simply want spoiled or purely narcissistic, purposeless desires brought to life on shady apps.
Rather, people who want what looks great on the surface made better through collaboration, through a platform-first prism.
I’m confident a massive audience will embrace the solution we have, what we will keep improving and that it will result in meaningful appreciation. Timing is everything. Goatnet is ours, not mine. It is shaped by need at a time in which content’s still king and the kingdoms are there for the making.
Whether it’s a post, an idea, a segment, a show, a series, a film, a channel, an event or an enterprise, our platform is designed to connect members with backers, programs with producers, experiences with ambitions. Hundreds of interactive profile options are out there, and we’ve found them to be dated, subject to churn and limited by illogical architecture.
Our assignment is to deliver a great gateway, not a dead end. Goatnet opens doors and is for anybody who wants to live the dream, to bridge popularity to potential. We will bolster, promote and power attractions aligned with your interests and the events in which you compete and perform, whether out front or behind the scenes.
We all need a team that has our backs. Goatnet is about you, your credentials, and how to enjoy results made greater thanks to your presence.
And apparently, my backstory.