Club's new president becoming familiar with parameters of local TV contract
HOUSTON -- Monday, the first official day on the job for new Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan, included mundane tasks like getting the keys to the building, finding his office and getting his computer set up. He also wasted no time in rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty.
Ryan, who was introduced at a news conference on Friday, spent the weekend driving back and forth between Houston and his home in the Austin, Texas, area before joining owner Jim Crane in a staff meeting on Monday at Union Station to get up to speed on the organization.
"It's still surreal," said Ryan, the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan who spent more than a decade as president and CEO of Ryan-Sanders Baseball, which owns and operates the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks and the Triple-A Round Rock Express. "It's just so odd to sit around and say, 'Hey, I'm the president of the Astros.' It's crazy."
Between trying to return the countless emails, text messages and phone calls Ryan has received from well-wishers, taking over as business operations of the Astros comes with no shortage of responsibility and urgency. He met with reporters on the field on Monday and provided an update.
"We had a meeting this morning, kind of a staff meeting, and everybody brought me up to speed on a lot of stuff," Ryan said, "and then I came in and got my computer set up and went to lunch with one of the people in the finance department and got a rundown of that. I've been in meetings with Jim and kind of got caught up with what he wants to happen out here."
Ryan said the top item on his agenda, not surprisingly, is trying to get a television deal negotiated between the team's regional sports network, Comcast Sports Net Houston, and cable/satellite providers like DirecTV, ATT U-verse and Dish Network. Currently, about 40 percent of the Houston television market can see Astros games.
"The No. 1 thing I want to do, and I spent the afternoon doing, is trying to get educated on this TV deal," Ryan said. "It's very complicated, and I really can't comment on it because I don't have a full understanding of it yet. It involves so many different players, and I'm sort of learning the history up to where we're at.
"I think there's a real desire from Jim to get it right. He knows if he doesn't get it right, it can affect the club for a very, very long period of time. There's a perception nationally that Houston is a small market and people want to treat us as a small market, but this is the fourth-largest city in America and it's kind of a slap in the face to call Houston a small market."
Crane said repeatedly the club needs to strike a TV deal to get fair market value to be able to compete with the American League West-rival Rangers, Angels and Mariners. Ryan said it's way too early to know how quickly a deal can be reached. He's already heard from fans about how frustrated they are about not being able to watch games on TV.
"I go back to common sense," Ryan said. "We want the games on TV for the fans. I've been hit on Twitter and people emailing me and at a restaurant last night, saying, 'You've got to help us with the TV deal.' Everybody wants a TV deal. But do they want it for the short-term feel-good [benefit] of having games on TV for the long-term expense of not being able to compete? I don't think they do."
During his drives between Houston and Austin -- Ryan is temporarily living at a hotel across the street from Minute Maid Park -- the new president also reached out to former Astros players like Larry Dierker, Roger Clemens, Phil Garner, Craig Biggio and Terry Puhl to get a flow of information going.
Dierker, who is no longer officially involved with the team, is scheduled to meet with Crane on Tuesday at Union Station.
"I called some guys and touched base with them and said, 'Hey, I'm here -- I want open my arms to you guys. I want your opinions, some input,'" Ryan said. "The neat thing is all of those folks in the game have been excited about me being over here, and I'm getting a lot of ideas."
Ryan has broken the job down into two segments: learning how the organization works from the inside and getting out in the community and letting local civic and business leaders learn more about his management style and his vision of what he wants to accomplish.
In the coming weeks and days, Ryan wants to talk to even more players who live in the area. He plans to shake hands with city officials and team sponsors in an effort to put fans and community leaders at ease about a club that has suffered some PR hits on and off the field in recent months.
"I feel I need to get out and get to know people and mend some fences out there," Ryan said. "The inside -- that's kind of my bread and butter, where I grew up in the business, and I really want to dive into the way this place works. That's not as time sensitive and urgent as getting out and trying to meet people in the community and find out what's happened over here."
Ryan also said he would like the Hooks, who are now owned by the Astros, to play an exhibition at Minute Maid Park next year. For now, there are plenty of more important items on Ryan's agenda.