Home Hotspots Central An Interview with Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld

An Interview with Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld

Brian Auld, formerly employed with Goldman Sachs, moved to the Tampa Bay area at 12 years ago to work with his high school friend, Matt Silverman on the then Devil Rays ‘turn around project’. “It sounded like too cool of an opportunity to pass up. So, here I am.” He came into the organization in 2005 having graduated from Harvard Business School with an MBA. He arrived with Andrew Freeman and Silverman. Silverman oversaw the business side of things and Auld oversaw a good chunk of the business side. When Freeman left (now president of operations with the Dodgers) Silverman became head of operations and Auld became team president. When asked how things are going as president of the Tampa Bay Rays, Auld said, “I think it’s going ok. There is a lot yet to be accomplished but I’m pretty proud of the fact that we’ve become even more focused on our mission, to energy the community to the magic of Rays baseball. And we’ve also put more resources into building an employee first community here. I always remind people that it’s not just lip service where we are. We know our staff and we do everything we can to put them above revenues, profits, customer service, fan experience, the product…everything else because we believe if we do accomplish that the rest of those things take care of themselves.”

Auld, born in Berkley, CA, grew up loving the Oakland A’s. “I grew up as a baseball fan. I spent six years in Japan where they are baseball crazy. My dad worked for Bank of America, which has offices in Japan. And, I always loved the game. I could never hit and I wasn’t particularly good at it but I could field a little bit.” His baseball heroes were Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco.

He loves his team now and politely says, “They’re all my favorites.” When pressed he admits Kevin Kiermaier, Chris Archer, and Evan Longoria are not only three of everybody’s favorites but they are also very near and dear to him. “They are the guys who have chosen to sign long term deals with us and are certainly leaving a huge mark with the team and choosing to be with the Rays long term because they believe in what our organization is doing.” Auld expresses his gratitude for the confidence Kiermaier, Archer, and Longoria have shown in The Rays and he adds “Obviously, we’ve shown some pretty serious confidence in them” as well.

His devotion to the Tampa Bay Rays extends well beyond the players and centers more on community. “We take very seriously our responsibilities as stewards of a community asset. I think the Tampa Bay Rays belong to both Stewart Sternberg and his partners but also to the Tampa Bay community. And we really try to run ourselves in a way that is consistent with that philosophy. We want the community to be proud of us; proud of what we do, how we do it, the way we go about it. We don’t kid ourselves that winning baseball games isn’t the number one way to do that, but in addition to putting as much energy and effort behind that endeavor we also want to do right by the community as a whole.” Auld acknowledges that winning games is the team’s greatest challenge in 2017 but feels it will be a good year for the team.” We don’t generate the revenues that would make it easy to compete year in and year out with the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays – those teams all have payrolls that double and sometimes triple what we can pay our guys. And so, when you’ve got that kind of resource disadvantage it makes it hard to stay competitive. But I am really proud of what we’ve done over the time we’ve had the opportunity to run this organization. We’ve had four post season appearances which is remarkable. A lot of teams would give up a whole lot to have that kind of record. We are coming off a tough stretch the last two to three years but I think we have a team that can be very, very competitive again this year and we’re extremely proud of that.”

Auld received recognition last month at Equality Florida’s St. Petersburg Gala for his work with the community.  Last year was the TBR’s 12th year holding a Pride Night. It began primarily as a group sale event. “We just wanted to reach out to the LGBTQ community in the same way we did to the African American and Latino communities, or even a particular church or religious group, just to get people out to the park and try to build a fan base from there.” In 2008, the Rays got involved with the It Gets Better Campaign and LGBTQ issues began to resonate more. “We recognized it was important to take a pretty firm stance that [the LGBTQ community] is a group that we certainly considered equal in every way to anyone else, anywhere.

In 2015, the Tampa Bay Rays were asked to sign on to the marriage equality Supreme Court amicus brief. “We were the first team to do it. After we did it only the San Francisco Giants and New England Patriots got on board. So, we were one of only three teams and it brought us a lot of attention, I think, within the gay community. And I like to think, locally it brought us a lot of credibility with the LGBT community. It says, we are not just quietly doing these things but we are grand marshalling parades and we are waiving rainbow flags and we stand with you all in this sort of crusade for equality.” Auld was asked to be on a conference call representing the entire business community, over 600 companies that had signed the amicus brief including Google, Apple, and companies much larger than the Rays. Of the request, Auld says, “When I asked Marc Solomon (national campaign director of Freedom to Marry) about it, who was running the effort, he said, ‘Look, you represent a sports team, in the south, and for you to be onboard with this speaks more highly that someone running a tech company in Silicon Valley or at least it brings things further.’  So, it was then we started to recognize potentially that we could actually play a real role in this whole endeavor. We did that and we started to see a little bit larger crowd come out for games. We had Billy Bean come down, the only former major league baseball player who was out who works with the commissioner’s office supporting inclusion and diversity.” There were people in the Rays outfield with signs that read “We Love the TB Gays” and he thinks it’s the first time that sign had been used in a non-derogatory manor. “It was great! We loved it and it felt good and we had more people here. We did that and we had stronger efforts behind it for a couple of years. We brought together leading members of the gay community to help plan the night, to make sure we were doing it appropriately, sensitively, and those folks have urged us to do more and more. Whether its handing out flags coming up with other elements and it’s been pretty wonderful. Not to say that there hasn’t been some unfortunate backlash but it’s been smaller than any one of us would have anticipated.”

With the Pulse massacre last June, Auld says Pride Night really took off. The Rays Pride Night was on the team’s schedule and just days before the Pulse shooting took place. “Internally we got together and said we’ve got to do something amazing and we didn’t know what that meant yet. Our owner said, ‘Do it, do it big, and do it right’. We didn’t know what it meant at that time.” They wanted to make sure that they dealt with the situation appropriately and reached out to gay community leaders for input. “Forty thousand people showed up here and more wanted to come. It was an incredible show of support for the gay community. I think it demonstrated very clearly that Tampa Bay has come a lot further than some might have wondered. And that while we all have different issues and we may be among the most politically divided communities in the Country, in terms of Republican/Democrat split and the like, we aren’t going to tolerate that kind of terrorism, hate-crime, or whatever word you want to use for what took place in Orlando. It was wonderful. We gave 100% of the proceeds from that night to the victims’ fund. And when I look back on 2016 it’s the highlight of the year.”

Auld want to continue to grow the Rays Pride Night organically. “We had so many show up for it last year that we’ll build some support going forward. I can’t expect that we’ll have 40K show up again but certainly have strong allies for the event in the gay community now. Facebook is going to spread the word. We expect people to come and to be together. I always say about any one of these community nights we do. One of the greatest benefits is we get a lot of people in the same room who might not otherwise get together. You see folks working on different parts of the same causes and making connections. And that’s one of the things that I think is great about baseball, that we can help provide that type of a venue for the community. It’s a three-hour long game. You put a bunch of people who care about the same thing in a small space together and they’ll come up with ways to advance that cause.”

Auld concludes by saying, “We’ve gotten an unusual amount of recognition for what we’ve done. I’ve been humbled and honored by the number of awards we’ve sort of gotten for this. But I think the biggest reason we do it is not because we are the largest business in Tampa Bay, we’re an extremely highly visible business. I think it’s just great that people are able to look at it see, oh yeah, there’s a big business that’s taken an outward stance on this. And I don’t think we’re the only ones. I think there are plenty. I want to make sure that I try to recognize all those other businesses doing all the same things but might not have quite the platform that we do to shout about it. Because important to keep fighting this fight everywhere.”

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