- New league headquarters occupies five floors in what was previously the Time-Life Building in New York
- Opening follows a three-year design and renovation effort
- Clean, modern design template seeks to bridge cultures of commissioner’s office, the former MLB Advanced Media
Since Rob Manfred became commissioner of Major League Baseball in early 2015, he has wanted to fully unite the league’s disparate operations. He began to achieve his ambition functionally later that same year, through his overarching ‘One Baseball’ strategy that blended the previously separate functions of the central MLB offices and what was MLB Advanced Media.
Now he has also achieved that goal in a physical sense.
MLB on January 6 will have its first official day at its new central headquarters at 1271 Avenue of the Americas in New York. More than three years in the making, the league will occupy five floors and roughly 330,000 square feet in the 48-story midtown Manhattan office building that was previously known as the Time-Life Building, first built in 1959 for Henry Luce’s publishing empire and home for Time Inc. until its 2015 departure.
The league will also have a street-level, 17,000-square-foot store opening later this year that marks its first permanent retail location in the US. The moves are part of a broader, $600m (€536m) renovation of the building by owner Rockefeller Group.
But beyond the additional space and forthcoming store, MLB will finally end nearly two decades of divided New York operations between 245 Park Avenue, and the former MLBAM headquarters and instant replay operations center southwest of there in Chelsea Market, and house up to 1,400 employees in a single location.
“This move really reflects the collaborative vision of One Baseball,” says Tony Petitti, MLB deputy commissioner, business and media. “Just considering the enhanced ability for that collaboration and internal communication this new space afford us, being together like this, it puts us light years ahead.”
In addition to the strictly internal functions, MLB’s new space will also include a street-level courtyard where it can stage marketing activations for key events such as Opening Day and the All-Star Game, as well as a conference center where it will be able to hold owners’ meetings, press conferences, and other gatherings.
“Through all of these various facets, it’s really about having more face-to-face time with each other,” Petitti says. “There’s just no substitute for that.”
Merging Two Cultures
MLB first signed the lease with Rockefeller Group in 2016, and began the multi-year planning and development effort in which the league’s floors were gutted window to window and entirely reimagined from scratch.
Rockefeller Group’s new vision for the building, featuring a new exterior facade, a 60-per-cent increase in the amount of window space, and modernized systems and controls throughout, is a far cry from the original Time Inc. use of the space, or its fictional depiction as the home of Sterling Cooper & Partners in the TV show Mad Men.
But by undertaking the large-scale move, MLB also had a hefty challenge of merging not only two separate offices between Park Avenue and Chelsea Market, but also two very different organizational cultures.
The Park Avenue offices, with plenty of wood accents in part echoing the look and feel of a baseball bat, were in many ways traditional midtown Manhattan corporate offices. The MLBAM offices in Chelsea Market, conversely, featured lots of exposed brick in what was a former Nabisco factory. The MLBAM office, featuring a large swath of younger workers, played a key role in establishing the entire Chelsea neighborhood as a technology hotbed within New York.
The new space at 1271 Avenue of the Americas seeks to blend those elements, at once balancing between recognizing the sport’s extensive history, while maintaining a clean, modern feel that emphasizes natural light and allows for expansive views along Sixth Avenue all the way from Central Park to One World Trade Center downtown.
The five floors, directly overlooking New York locales such as Radio City Music Hall, are organized largely by functional duties. The lowest of the quintet of floors, number five, is dedicated to many of the technology functions previously housed in Chelsea, including the instant replay operations center. The building’s sixth floor houses main reception for the space, as well as baseball’s marketing, social media, and design services departments.
The seventh floor is the executive space, and where Manfred, Petitti, and other senior leaders will primarily work. The eighth floor is the conference center featuring a wide variety of formal meeting spaces. And the ninth floor houses MLB’s legal and finance operations.
MLB originally planned to occupy an additional floor, to make six in all, when it first signed its lease deal with Rockefeller Group in 2016. But after the two-stage sale of the BAMTech digital media subsidiary to The Walt Disney Co. in 2016-17, MLB slightly reduced its overall footprint in the new space.
Within each of MLB’s five floors, a heavy premium is placed on open meeting rooms and other communal work spaces. And hundreds of video screens have been placed throughout the entire space, and will be regularly showing baseball content from the MLB Network, MLB.com, and the league’s regional and national broadcast partners.
On that broadcast front, MLB will also maintain the MLB Network studios in nearby Secaucus, New Jersey. But the sixth floor of the new headquarters features a remote studio that features a direct link to the MLB Network, and will allow Manfred and others to make live appearances on the cable channel without needing to cross the Hudson River.
The meeting rooms themselves, meanwhile, have also been substantially reorganized. In the prior Park Avenue office, MLB primarily used a nine-room suite of conference spaces that were each named for Manfred’s commissioner predecessors including Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first to hold the post, and Bud Selig, the most recent.
The league’s new space instead names a significantly expanded set of more than 50 conference rooms of varying sizes named after all-time great players from both vintage and modern eras, organizing those spaces on each floor around core baseball skill sets such as batting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning.
“Each floor is a little different, but the spaces reflect the character of who is on each floor, what goes on there, and where we want to take our business, Petitti says. “And throughout all of that, we want to respect the history of the game but maintain connections with our current players.”
The league worked extensively with global firm Studios Architecture on many of the design elements of the new space, as well New York-based experience design shop ESI Design for graphic components. MLB declined to detail the costs of the leasing and design of the new space. But large-scale corporate relocations such as this typically involve multi-million dollar costs. The league says the newly-combined space will be far more efficient than maintaining the two prior, separate locations.
“As we’ve begun to move in over the last few weeks and get ready for [January 6], we’ve already been seeing our people use the space in a lot of different, and some unexpected, ways,” Petitti says. “That’s something I’m really looking forward to seeing more of as we get settled into the new home.”