Following nearly 70 years under the same leadership, Elias Sports Bureau has changed hands — but stayed in the family. New owner Joe Gilston now hopes he can continue the visionary leadership his grandfather was able to grow Elias into a dominant brand within sports statistics.
Seymour Siwoff, Gilston’s grandfather, purchased the company in 1952. In the ensuing seven decades at the helm of Elias, he led the company through a variety of evolutionary periods to coincide with changing consumption habits for sports fans and organizations alike. Now serving as the firm’s president, Gilston expects to continue the drive forward into new mediums. While terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, the Gilston-led Joseph Gilson Trust took control of the business.
Elias was established in 1913 by brothers Al and Walter Elias with a focus on baseball statistics. Under Siwoff, Elias grew from its original designation as official statistician of Major League Baseball to also become the official statistical partner of the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Women’s National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer.
Early in Siwoff’s career, computers presented an efficient way to better keep historical statistical databases, and he utilized the machines when few others in business were. The use of computers allowed Elias employees to ask specific questions and create storylines around the massive amounts of information.
“My grandfather saw the opportunity and saw the future of sports statistics,” Gilston said. “He saw what a personal computer could mean for sports statistics when there were very few across the country.”
Elias’ revenue was also driven by partnerships with newspapers for much of its early history and the company still publishes the annual The Elias Book of Baseball Records, a hard-copy source of official baseball records available for purchase on the company’s website. Then, as media consumption transitioned to television, the decision to provide services such as current and historical notes to broadcasters and sports networks including MLB Network, NFL Network, NHL, Network, ESPN, Turner Sports, Comcast and NESN has been crucial to the keeping Elias at the forefront of statistical storytelling. Next came the internet, where the company provides back-end support for statistics on websites and also serves as the primary statistical resource for ESPN and CBSSports websites.
Unsurprisingly, Gilston already has his sights set on the next frontier.
“Partnerships will evolve and now partners are thinking mobile-first so we’re figuring out how to tell a story on a smaller screen,” he said. “That’s very much what we’re thinking.”
All of that plus round-the-clock customer support has helped a business-to-business company focused on telling stories through statistics stay relevant in an age where more and new types of data are available than ever before.
“The business has continued to grow as opportunities have presented themselves and figuring out how we can help businesses,” Gilston said. “The landscape of sports and therefore sports statistics is ever-evolving, particularly with how the public now consumes sports. We are excited by this transition and well-positioned to continue the essential role we play in tracking the evolution of sports.”
With a strong client base and a deep history, Siwoff is confident the company will continue to seize opportunities as they emerge under the watch of his grandson.
“I am quite certain that the company will continue to prosper under Joe’s leadership,” Siwoff said. “Joe appreciates all that we have accomplished over the years, and he has the smarts, passion, creativity and talents to lead Elias and our terrific employees to new heights in a new technological age.”
It makes for a remarkable homecoming story. Gilston joined Elias after college, first in lower-level data-entry positions before working his way up into more research-heavy jobs. Five years into his first stint at Elias, Gilston left to pursue other career opportunities until a chance to take over for Siwoff emerged.
For now, Gilston doesn’t foresee too many immediate changes, if any at all. He’ll have a friendly face to help guide him, too: Siwoff still shows up to work at 98 years old.
“There’s a comfort level there to some degree,” Gilston said about the ownership staying in the family. “I’ve certainly grown up with the company, and it’s something I think about a lot, that this is continuing my grandfather’s legacy and the opportunity to take the reins and see what’s next for the company.”