If there’s a way to have a trial by fire in MLB before ever owning a club, surely Rangers Baseball Express, the group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan have walked miles over scorching road. For months the group labored to purchase the Texas Rangers through a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy process after former owner Tom Hicks fell $525 million in debt through the Rangers’ holding company, Hicks Sports Group. Commissioner Selig said at one point that it was a “long and winding road” in the process, and that was well before creditors of HSG pushed for, and got, an open auction for the purchase of the club, something that had not occurred since the Orioles were auctioned off in 1993.
Through it all, Greenberg, the Pittsburgh sports attorney and minor league club owner worked with his group of investors through the exceptionally difficult process. At the same time, he has been exceptionally accessible with fans. To date, he is the only MLB owner on Facebook, accepts every “Friend” request, and answers all fan emails and text messages. On the day that Rangers Baseball Express won at auction over Mark Cuban and Jim Crane, he received over 2,000 emails and text messages congratulating the group, a clear sign that the majority of fans were happy to see RBE close in on obtaining the Rangers.
We caught up with Greenberg, who now has the title of Managing Partner and CEO of the Rangers, just two days after officially taking over the Rangers on Friday the 13th, just one day after MLB’s owners unanimously approved the ownership transfer, and all of 10 days after winning the club purchase through auction. To say that Greenberg has been in a state of perpetual motion may be the understatement of the year. Topics for the interview include his state of mind just before the ownership vote, what the scene was like just after walking in the conference room door after the vote, why the Rangers have rolled out a sweeping group of cost-cutting initiatives for fans, whether shading or a roof are realistic plans for the Ballpark in Arlington, the latest on attempts to get a new video display installed for next season, and more.
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Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: Describe what’s running through your mind as you’re sitting outside the meeting room for the ownership vote on approval of sale of the Rangers.
Chuck Greenberg: It's was a great sense of anticipation. This has been a long road, with so many twists and turns. To me the moment before it all came to fruition was quite memorable.
Brown: Set the scene when you entered the room after the unanimous vote.
Greenberg: I walk into the room and everybody was standing and applauding. I took my place at the Rangers table and the commissioner said, "Chuck, congratulations. Enjoy this moment, because it's the last time everyone in this room will ever stand and applaud you again." Which I'm pretty sure is part of the standard remarks. On behalf of everyone who put so much effort into the process, it's a great moment for everybody.
Brown: Did you get a chance to talk to Commissioner Selig during the meetings, and if so, what did he say to you?
Greenberg: He told me how much he appreciated our whole group sticking together, staying with the process, and that he was quite certain that we'd be a credit to the franchise and to Major League Baseball. He added that he looked forward to everything that the future of the Texas Rangers would bring.
Brown: Jerry Reinsdorf had some very nice things to say about you and Rangers Baseball Express. Did anyone else greet you and have anything to say, once you were approved?
Greenberg: Quite a few. I had a chance, besides being in the ownership meeting on Wednesday afternoon, to attend the owners' dinner that evening and had a chance to socialize with a number of owners after that as well. And so it was a great feeling of collegiality and satisfaction that a long and difficult saga had finally come to a conclusion.
Brown: On Friday, the first day you took charge, the Rangers rolled out a sweeping group of initiatives for fans. In some senses, the organization has a captive audience. There has been incredible attendance, and the team is sitting well atop the AL West. Often times, ownership cuts prices when they are suffering at the gate. So, it begs the question: Why now?
Greenberg: Because it's all a matter of doing the right thing. You don't do the right thing because it's convenient, you don't do the right thing because it's strategic, you do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. And we've said for nine months going back when we were selected in December that this franchise really belongs to our fans, and we thought it was important -- particularly given how supportive everyone was through and during the process –to show that we really meant it, and that those were not empty words. So what better time to make the point than on Day One?
Brown: There has been some recent press that in the past, the Rangers looked into some form of shading over the Ballpark to deal with the heat. Was this overblown, or is there considerations for such a major upgrade to the ballpark?
Greenberg: We're always going to look for innovative ways to improve the ballpark experience, and if there is an efficient, sensible way to address heat, we'll look at it. But right now, to make it real simple, there isn't one and so we're not going to spend a lot of time worrying about it. The fact of the matter is this is a subject that gets blown significantly out of proportion. The reality is that during the hottest time of the year, when there's been a record-setting sustained heat wave, we're averaging over 40,000 a game over our last 14 or so games. So, if you have a compelling product, people will come to the games. And as for our players, they're coming to see it as the same kind of home-field advantage that the Packers view icy temperatures in December at Lambeau Field. Other players from other teams come in and they're in a panic over trying to survive the conditions, our guys are used to it. So, it is what it is, we're going to focus on controlling the things we can control, and right now the heat isn't one of them, so we're going to use it as an advantage, and obviously it's not keeping our fans away.
Brown: What’s the latest on attempting to get a new videoboard in place?
Greenberg: We've got three different companies that are very interested. I think it's going to be a spirited and competitive process. I'm not going to say “auction” because I'm trying to keep that word from my vocabulary after all we went through to get the club. But, I think we're going to have three companies that are going to be very aggressive in trying to have a chance to display their product in our ballpark. So, I'm pretty optimistic we'll find a way to get it done for Opening Day 2011.
Brown: Finally, how good is it to be Chuck Greenberg these days?
Greenberg: I can't think of anyone I would trade places with right now. To have the kind of opportunity that as a little kid you can only dream about, and to do it in such a great community where fans have so patiently awaited for almost 40 years to have the kind of ballclub that we have right now and have the future that we believe lies before us means a great deal. Nolan [Ryan] and I so appreciative of all the support we've received throughout the process, and now it's our turn to return the favor by taking care of the fans and treating this as one big family and finally delivering the championship everyone throughout the community has waited for for so long.
- Special thanks goes out to Evan Drellich for assistance in the transcription process of this interview