Sports was a common thread in Michael Byrnes' home growing up. As the third of four brothers, he played baseball through high school, then found an interest in the business side of the industry. After eight years working for the Frisco Roughriders, Byrnes, 35, took the helm of the Oklahoma City RedHawks in 2010.
“You learn early on that sports, it's still a business. We have 32 people here and we're a small business, it just so happens our product is something pretty fun and entertaining,” he said.
His wife, Jenna, also works for the team as vice president of ticket sales. So often nights, weekends and even vacations are spent with an emphasis on baseball. Byrnes sat down with The Oklahoman last week to talk about his life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Q: What's a typical day like for you?
A: There's an offseason day and an in-season day. This time of year, in the offseason, we're putting a lot of effort into sales. Our ticket sales staff is working hard to meet with small businesses and sell ticket packages and make community partnerships. We've been doing some hiring. The offseason is build the plan; in season is work the plan. During the season, we're in at 8, we work through the end of the day, then it turns into a game night. We open our gates and welcome 8,500 people out to the ballpark. Those can be pretty long days. But it's fun. When you finally get the fans in the ballpark, that's when it's fun.
Q: Did you play baseball as a child?
A: I played baseball up through high school. I'm one of four boys, so there were a lot of sports in my house. Now, three out of four of us work in sports. The Thanksgiving dinner table gets kind of interesting.
Q: Do you get together for the holidays?
A: We do. We'll get together here for Christmas. All the brothers and my dad will come up so we'll get to spend some time here in Oklahoma City, then we'll scatter a little bit. My wife and I will go to Ohio, where her family is from.
Q: How did you get here? Did you plan to have a career in sports?
A: My first job in sports was selling parking when the Dallas Stars hockey team moved to a new arena, the American Airlines Center. That was my intro to how the sales process works. That rolled into an opportunity with the Big 12 Conference tournament in Arlington (Texas) in 2002. Then the Frisco Roughriders got into hiring mode and I spent some time in sales, ticket operations, partnerships. Over the course of eight years, I had an indirect path to learning the business. It was a neat step to be able to come here to work for the same company, Mandalay (Entertainment Group), but it was a new team and new product and new challenges. It was a good shot in the arm.
Q: What do you do on the weekends when you're not working? Or are you working on the weekends?
A: There are some times that we are working on the weekends. This time of year, we try to sneak in a little bit of travel because during the summer, there's not too many opportunities to do that. We had an industry conference in Nashville this week, and my wife and I went a few days early so we could go and enjoy ourselves before the work started. So if we can travel, we try. Then a little bit of recoup and relax.
Q: Is there somewhere you'd like to travel but you haven't been yet?
A: We've been talking about doing a skiing trip to Telluride or a place like that.
Q: The RedHawks had some changes this year with the naming rights to the ballpark and losing players and even the team manager. What has that been like for you?
A: We have a partnership with the Houston Astros, and they are responsible for all the decisions about what goes on with the players and the field staff and the managers. Then we have everything else. It's a unique relationship. The product we put on every night is a baseball game, and that's the one thing we don't control. But we can control how great the fan experience is, the entertainment, how clean the ballpark is, our customer service. It is interesting because there are a lot of players that come and go. I was told this week they are expecting to send their top prospect here next year. So that could be fun for our fans to see one of the best prospects in baseball.
Q: Do you stay and watch the games?
A: We work the games. Many times, we'll have important relationships out at the ballpark so we'll spend some time with them. Having oversight of the entertainment experience, for instance, we'll make sure it's going to the level we want it. I haven't stayed for all 72 games, but for 90 percent of the games, we're here to the end. One of the things we think is really important is at the end of the night, our staff is at the gate, thanking everyone for coming. We think that's a great last touch.