Rick Welts Press Conference
Suns introduce new president, COO
Rick Welts Press Conference
Posted: June 24, 2002
The Phoenix Suns held a press conference inside the Platinum Club at America West Arena on Monday evening to introduce their new president and chief operating officer, Rick Welts. The following is a transcript from the media availability session.
SUNS PRESIDENT, GENERAL MANAGER BRYAN COLANGELO: Before we get started, I just want to acknowledge the efforts of the firefighters and the people fighting the wildfires in Arizona and also in Colorado, the people who are going through literal Hell as we carry on about our business here. All the victims, certainly Arizona victims, our hearts and our concerns go out to those individuals.
I was just perusing through some e-mail earlier and I found out that the Boys and Girls Club in Show Low just got wiped out and that’s obviously near to us as we’re supporters and I’m also a board member for the Valley Boys and Girls Club.
With that, I’ll change the pace a little bit. I just want to introduce someone that is going to make our lives in the Phoenix Suns organization, and certainly my life, a lot easier. We’ve been talking about the possibility of restructuring the organization as we look towards the future. I spent some time, just over six months ago now, with Jerry Colangelo, Chairman and CEO of the organization, and talked to him about the future, talked to him about a 10-year plan as we look towards that future, and we talked about staying competitive in a very crowded sports marketplace. We talked about things that needed to be done in my opinion that we could address both internally with some re-organization and also externally by bringing in somebody with the experience and with the talent the guy sitting next to me has. Having said that we will be hiring Rick Welts as our President and Chief Operating Officer.
This is something that I think puts us on par with the other 28 NBA clubs. We’ve been a little bit structured differently in that Jerry’s always been very active as an owner. Probably more so than most with now the exception of (Dallas Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban, who’s very hands on. But Jerry’s day-to-day involvement was such that it made it easier to be structured the way we were. As things have grown increasingly busy for him, managing a number of things and taking a more global approach, perhaps, to two leagues, to two teams, to community-based programs and initiatives, and personal things that stretch well beyond Arizona’s borders now, it just made it more difficult, I think, for Jerry to be here on a day-to-day basis. Not that he’s going anywhere. He’s still “The Man” so to speak. He’s still the last voice on any major or significant business decision or any major or significant trade proposal that I come to him with, or that Frank Johnson, our current coach, may come to him with. But the fact of the matter is, we are looking towards the future with a new plan and that plan entails bringing in someone that can basically lead us into the future with all kinds of experience. With that I’m very pleased to introduce Rick Welts as President and Chief Operating Officer, and he comes with all sorts of experience, NBA related, baseball related, league related, television issues, you name it. With that, Rick, welcome.
PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER RICK WELTS: Thanks, Bryan. I’m tremendously excited to be a part of what I feel is really one of the most storied organizations, not just in the NBA, but also I would say in all of sports. When Bryan called six weeks ago, he said, “Give me a few minutes. I’d like to share with you our vision for the Phoenix Suns organization going into the future.” I really listened and I would say over the course of the last five or six weeks, Bryan and I have had dozens of phone calls. I have had the opportunity to spend some significant time with Jerry, and I really became convinced that there was an opportunity here to be a part of something that is going to be very special going forward.
The history of this organization is one that I’ve watched. My first job was in Seattle working for the Sonics in 1969. Yes, as a ball boy. But I’ve had the opportunity from a lot of different vantage points to watch the Phoenix Suns continue to be successful, continue to re-invent themselves, and when Bryan and Jerry came to me and said, “We would like you to be a part of that future,” believe me, in this industry that is not something that you take very lightly. It’s an honor to have a vote of confidence from both Jerry and Bryan. I’m absolutely ecstatic about the opportunity to be here. The reputation in this place is that you hire great people, that you let them do their jobs and I have all those assurances that all of those things will continue to be true going forward.
I’m just hoping that my experience can let Bryan and Frank create the best basketball team possible, for Jerry to deal with the kinds of issues that all of us as sports fans benefit because of his involvement, and hopefully I can find a niche in between and we can turn the Suns into the kind of organization that historically they have been. So it’s great to be a part of this community. I’m going to be here full time starting July 1st and I am thrilled to be here.
BRYAN COLANGELO: Actually, Rick was hoping to be with us on Draft Day, but unfortunately he’s going to be addressing the Players Association very soon. Billy Hunter, the head of the Players Association, had asked him to come down and address the players.
QUESTION: Bryan, is this day and age in sports, is it just impossible for one person to oversee both basketball and business?
BRYAN COLANGELO: I think so. There are 28 other clubs that have clear separation between basketball and business. We have always been structured such that one person was technically responsible, but those responsible here from Ray Artigue to Harvey Shank to Jim Pitman to Tom O’Malley, everyone has been incredibly effective at what they do and Jerry has given everyone incredible leeway. But I think this is more about just a leadership issue with regard to moving forward, where I can focus on basketball, Rick can focus on business issues and we can come together collectively on a number of things and bring them to Jerry. Now we’re on par with what I consider most teams in the sports industry.
QUESTION: Rick, what is your view of the Phoenix market?
WELTS: I think it would be a little presumptuous for me to give my list of conclusions without having been here full-time yet. But having watched from a distance, I think the support the Suns have historically enjoyed here by really being the first (pro team) here and building a fan base, and having success over a long period of time, I think there is a reservoir of goodwill out there for the Suns. In part because of the commitment this organization has always made to the community. A long time ago it was vogue to say that you had to become a part of the community and to invest back into the community to really earn your place in the landscape. This organization was already doing it and I think the history creates a real reservoir of goodwill.
Bryan told me in the beginning that he wasn’t satisfied with the product on the floor. It makes it easier when you’re winning. But I think people respect that the Suns, from the beginning, have been an integral part in giving back to the community.
QUESTION: Bryan, as far as the chain of command, how will the answering process go? Will you report to Rick? Will he report to you? Will you both report to Jerry?
BRYAN COLANGELO: I think it’s important to point out that Jerry is the final decision-maker and that’s the way we operate now. Information funnels to Jerry. I consider Rick a partner on this effort as we try to embrace this challenge ahead of us.
The organization is poised for some significant progress in the future on a number of fronts. You talk about possible labor problems in both baseball and hockey. That’s, obviously, something that’s looming and we should benefit from that if everything falls into place. That’s not something I’m excited about, knowing Jerry’s involvement in baseball, but that’s a reality.
There’s also the situation that’s brewing right now on the basketball front and I’m extremely excited about our coaching staff. We’ve recently brought in Marc Iavaroni and there’s some speculation that we’ll be bringing in another coach here soon. Some other guy who is Italian, I think (laughs). I think with that Frank has agreed to change his name to Franko Johnson (laughs). We’re excited about the Italian movement on the staff. Having said that, from a basketball perspective, not to say the old staff didn’t have it in line, but I can tell you there is a very positive environment right now amongst our entire basketball unit. I think that the coaching influence of the individuals that we’re brining in is an extremely positive influence on the players. There are just a lot of positive things happening here. I think that with that and with all of our employees who make this a special organization, I think that we are poised for some progress here.
QUESTION: Bryan, with Rick’s addition, does that mean Jerry will focus more on the Diamondbacks?
BRYAN COLANGELO: No. Jerry is approaching everything from the same perspective. This is just a realization of how much has been taken away from his efforts, only because of his extremely busy schedule. Again, the global perspective that he takes with both teams, both leagues and all the community initiatives that he’s involved in, including some national fundraising campaigns, it’s really made it difficult for him to be here day-to-day to talk about those things. So nothing’s really changed other than we’re going to have someone next to me as we move forward.
QUESTION: Bryan, will this change anything in your role?
BRYAN COLANGELO: I will have a little more time to get my desk cleaned up (laughs). I just feel that in my role, it’s been difficult for me to travel as much as I feel I need to, whether it be with the team or on scouting trips, etc.. This gives me a change to focus as much as I need to and as much as my peers and competitors are doing in their respective positions.
QUESTION: Rick, with all that’s going on in the league, including declining TV ratings and declining interest, even declining attendance here in Phoenix, what sold you that you could possibly change that and turn it around?
WELTS: Well, I’m not going to judge any organization on a year or two. I think you have to step back and look at the history of an organization. I have preached this since day one, that it starts and ends with ownership. I think there are a lot of organizations that are not thinking long term. They’re thinking, “What are we going to do in a year? What are we going to do in two years?” And that’s about as far out as they can see. The one thing that no one could argue with about this organization is that historically and going forward there has been a real focus on the future. You know, this year’s important, but three years down the road is more important and five years down the road is more important than that. I think that ability to look to the future and make commitments, both in people and in resources, is what convinced me that this is going to continue to be the kind of place that’s going to be an industry leader.
QUESTION: Bryan, what was it that attracted you to Rick?
BRYAN COLANGELO: When I first talked to Jerry about the situation, he asked who I had in mind. I said, “There’s really one guy and that’s Rick Welts. I don’t know if he’s available, but I’ll certainly seek that out.” The call was interesting. We talked about a lot of things. But the fact of the matter is, anybody that you talk to in this industry, including some serious people – David Stern, Russ Granik, Val Ackerman – all those people that I have to deal with from a league perspective, there’s one name and it’s Rick Welts. They all said they weren’t sure if he was available, but I think as free agent signings go, this was a good one.
QUESTION: Rick, Bryan mentioned a 10-year plan earlier. What do you foresee for the next decade in the NBA? What kind of challenges, business wise, do you think you will run up against?
WELTS: That’s a great question. I think the issues that we’re confronting as an industry now are certainly not unique as it relates to Phoenix. For the first time in a long time, I think the league is placing a huge emphasis on ticket sales and is trying to create new ways to sell tickets. Frankly, we have to re-think everything we’re doing in that area. We’re busy people. Forty-one nights a year is a lot. So certainly, I think that’s a challenge, but I think it’s being addressed really well right now.
This is an amazing facility. When it opened, I think it led the league in every possible stat, including revenue and all business measurements as well. It’s amazing to all of us that a 10-year-old building could need re-inventing. But I love listening to both of these guys when they talk about what they see as the future of America West Arena, and I’m very excited about being a part of that process.
You know, historically, it’s all about what happens down on that floor. This league has been able to deal with its players in creative ways that have allowed both the players and management to prosper in a system that has evolved today, and one that I think is the envy of some other leagues. We need to keep that going. It’s the partnership with the players that has made this work. So all those things are going to be huge issues going forward. I think you’ve seen television take a major evolutionary change over the course of the NBA’s last deal to the new deal. I think it’s very reflective of what you’re going to see in the future of other league’s as well. I’m tremendously confident in the leadership of the NBA as it is today and I’m tremendously confident in the leadership of this organization, as well. So I think there are a lot of reasons, despite all the challenges, to be very optimistic about the future.
JERRY COLANGELO: Obviously, we’ve talked about this at great length. I think this is a big move for our franchise to bring in someone the caliber of Rick Welts to our franchise and to our operation. He’s respected around the country as one of the top sports executives in the industry and I’ve known him a long time. You know his background, starting as a ball boy and working his way through an organization, and landing in the league office and doing tremendous things. I’ve had the opportunity to see him grow as an executive. So you talk about the right fit, a good piece, this is very, very important to us and we’re happy to have him.
QUESTION: Bryan, was it a clear-cut choice for you to stay on the basketball side and hand the business side off?
BRYAN COLANGELO: I didn’t hesitate. I know where my strengths are and where my love is, and I’m pretty confident that I can outwork the next guy that I’m up against. I know where we are also because we’ve got an excellent basketball staff and they are there to support those efforts. Again, not much is changing that way. We’re still doing things the same way we’ve always done them. We build a consensus and then we make decisions and we live with them. If I’m the guy who takes the arrow, I take the arrow.
QUESTION: Jerry, was it as clear-cut for you?
JERRY COLANGELO: I think so. I knew where his heart was. I can’t help it, I think about things have grown. I remember when we had about six people in the front office and we didn’t have assistant coaches. There was a time when I was the coach and GM, and marketing guy, and everything else. Things do evolve. It’s big business today. It wasn’t back then and the way organizations are now structured, they really have separated the business side from the basketball side. It’s almost impossible for someone to have total responsibility that way and in this new structure I think we’re going to be much more effective.
WELTS: I’d like to add one thing to that. While a lot of other organizations have grown that way, too, this one has managed to preserve the real values that have made it successful. I think that starts with integrity, I think it starts at the top with leadership and I don’t think there’s a very long list of organizations that have been able to make those transformations the way this one has.