by Benjamin Gleisser
Rick Pych ’75 likes working for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs so much that he helped build a new home for them.
While no one refers to the 18,797-seat AT&T Center as “The House That Rick Built,” Pych, the president of Business Operations for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, oversaw the financing, design, and construction of the arena, which opened in 2002.
“I’m really proud of my leadership role in the arena project, which created an environment that everyone can enjoy,” Pych said, relaxing for a moment in his spacious office. “I know this sounds like a cliché, but coming to work every day is a lot of fun for me.”
Pych, who runs the marketing, sales, finance, communications, and corporate development arms of the company, also works to make the job fun for his staff of about 250 full-time and 1,000 part-time – mostly game-day – employees. How? By “motivating people to create a work culture that promotes enthusiasm, collaboration and good-natured competitiveness,” he said. “We celebrate our successes as an organization, not as individuals.”
Even though the Spurs are a perennial playoff team, and have won four NBA Championships over the last 12 years, selling season tickets is a tad tougher these days. A labor dispute between the players’ union and league management has effectively shut down the NBA and, as of July, both sides were still at the bargaining table trying to hammer out a new contract. Pych declined to speculate on how long it may be until basketballs begin bouncing again on the arena’s parquet floor.
And so the arena is quieter, but that doesn’t mean Pych and his crew get more time to rest – there are still sponsors to find and teams to market. Spurs Sports & Entertainment also operates the San Antonio Silver Stars, of the WNBA; the Austin Toros of the NBA’s Developmental League; and the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. The Rampage is the minor-league affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
All Spurs sports teams do well in their various leagues, but Pych knows winning records don’t guarantee seats filled with fans. So, to entice people to the AT&T Center, Pych has found ways to turn games into events.
“Our focus is selling the experience of the game, which you can’t get at home by watching TV,” he said. “We emphasize the social interaction of being here by creating spaces around the arena with large screens that are like sports bars, where people can go to hang out with friends. So people don’t just come for the game – they come for a whole night out.”
“These special events help build camaraderie and motivate people to want to work here,” he said. “At Spurs Sports & Entertainment, we practice a bottom-up – not a top-down – style of management that encourages people to talk and share ideas. Because, win or lose, we’re all in this together.”
Growing up in Hartford, Conn., Pych played football, baseball, and soccer in high school, and hockey in community leagues. He loved aviation and planned on joining the military to become a pilot, but his vision wasn’t good enough for cockpit duty. Pointing out his excellent marks in mathematics, Pych’s high school guidance teacher suggested a career in accounting. He applied to Fairfield University because he liked its accounting program.
“Fairfield opened me up to a lot of different areas, and I received a well-rounded liberal arts education,” he said. “The school opened my eyes to the many possibilities life has to offer. That’s a lesson I still keep in mind today: Always keep your eyes open to possibilities.”
Graduation day was an especially proud moment for Pych’s blue-collar parents, Alex and Marie, as he was the first person in the family to go to college. “It was very important to my parents that I receive the education they didn’t have,” he remembered. “They didn’t direct me in any profession, but were very proud I was living the dream they always had. They were thrilled I had an education, because I would not have to work as hard as they had to try to make a life for themselves.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, he worked as an accountant for Price Waterhouse, and then as a real estate banker at Equator Bank, a subsidiary of Hong Kong Shanghai Bank. In 1992, a colleague secured him an interview with an investment company in Texas.
“I never thought I’d leave Connecticut, but I got on the plane on a slushy day, and got off under a beautiful, sunny blue sky with a temperature in the 60s,” he said with a laugh. A year later he joined Spurs Sports & Entertainment, where he served as chief financial officer from 1993-2000, then as executive vice president of finance and corporate development. He was promoted to his current position in 2008.
During that time, Pych worked to bring major sporting events to San Antonio, including the 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival, the 1995 National Senior Olympics, the 2002 NCAA Women’s Final Four and the 1998, 2004, and 2008 NCAA Men’s Final Four. He’s proud of his city – he serves on several community boards – and, as a bonus, he gets to show off the arena that he helped build.
Pych still visits Fairfield now and then, and when he is in the area, he likes to drive up Interstate 95 and visit the campus to see what’s new, and to remember the past. “It was fun to hang around the Campus Center and talk with friends. Sometimes we’d go to the beach, or the Duchess Drive In, which had good burgers and hot dogs.”