On Monday night, the Center for Sports Communication and Social Impact held their weekly Pizza with the Pros event. This week the opportunity was to chat with and ask questions to John Ricco, the senior vice president and senior strategy officer of the New York Mets.
Some of his other accomplishments and work history include being in the commissioner’s office before joining the Mets in 2004 and overseeing the baseball operations of the department’s budget. He is also the longest-tenured member in the Mets front office.
As a Fan Growing Up:
Ricco was a Yankees fan in his youth through college, then landed a job in the Yankees Commissioner’s Office.
However, he spoke about the fact that the downside of being a sports fan is that your job in the sports industry is more about the job and less about the fandom. When the Mets offered him a really good job, he took the offer.
On The Business Side of His Career:
Ricco mentioned that reconstruction of the independent leagues to become affiliated was a long-time coming. The old minor league system didn’t make sense anymore. Travel schedules and ways that the game was marketed were very “dated.”
On discussing the current salary cap issue, Ricco expressed that this has been an issue since he got in the game. There is a luxury tax in place that is supposed to combat this issue, but it doesn’t.
He thinks one of the best ways to combat the issue is to encourage the smaller market teams to spend more. He hopes to find a collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires, but he knows it will be a challenge. Another challenge posed is that there need to be solutions that benefit both sides. Since this is a different salary issue than those in other sports, it can be more organic but face more inequities.
On discussing the affect of COVID on his role, Ricco said that his role has been affected in many ways, but the most direct was when he was put in charge of the COVID “task force.”
The MLB then came out with a plan, but now it was up to Ricco to organize how he needed to get everyone involved to execute it in a way that keeps the staff, players and fans healthy.
It was challenging because of different employment issues, yet rewarding and a great deal of responsibility. He also mentioned that the team is “more connected than ever” because of regular Zoom meetings.
On discussing the new rule changes taking place, Ricco feels as though he is in the minority when he says that these rule changes could be beneficial. He agrees that baseball is very dated and likes the modern changes. Ricco feels this way because he thinks the organization should adhere to all fans, not just Mets fans.
On the Baseball Operations Side of His Career:
When discussing how minor league baseball shaped his career, Ricco reflected on the time spent with the affiliates. In the minor leagues, drafting was a majority of high school boys, so basically it was up to Ricco and his team to raise them from that point on. He spent a lot of time with the younger talent and it helped him develop a lot of leadership and management skills.
On being an executive during multiple management changes, Ricco understands that handling transition is inevitable and crucial. The change was similar and the role he played in each of those management systems is a role of continuity and institutional knowledge.
Ricco mentioned that it was challenging because the new group of management tended to criticize the predecessors, and exciting and rewarding because he was able to hear new thoughts, provide institutional knowledge and help with the upbringing of the new management.
Ricco’s key to sticking with this job during all of the management transitions was to treat people with respect. He emphasized this because people like to work with likable people.
Another thing he reflected on was that early in his career he developed a skill set that made him valuable. This skillset helped elevate him into the career he is in now because not a lot of people wanted to do the job he wanted.
Ricco’s day-to-day responsibilities include identifying and bringing different departments together to accomplish tasks. Ricco’s projects include getting spring training off of the ground, especially being tasked with doing so following health and safety guidelines. This means it’s his job to bring together the different operations and security within the stadium to ensure and navigate the health guidelines.
He is also in charge of getting the task force to find creative and safe ways for fans to safely get from their homes to inside the stadium as well as having safe protocols for concessions. By limiting seating to 20% capacity and selling tickets in groups of 2-4, Ricco thinks getting fans back safely can be done. His team is piggy-backing off of what other sports have done to allow for fans to attend.
Ricco’s Advice For Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students:
Since COVID has caused lots of uncertainty in the sports world, most teams are questioning what next year will be like since little hiring is going on.
He did mention that regardless of the circumstances, timing is vital and it’s something that college students, in particular, should pay attention to when getting a sports job. Ricco discussed the importance of sending your resume to the team and department you want to work in as soon as the season is ending so the department can already start to look for employees for next season. Getting the timing right can make a huge difference in breaking into the industry.
On people who want to join the field that Ricco is in, he discussed the importance of being open-minded. Post-graduate students face the challenge of wanting and needing a job so they can start getting health benefits and get paychecks coming in.
However, Ricco compared the job hunt to “casting a net.” Start with a narrow focus of what you want to go in, and keep getting broader and broader. Why? Because ultimately you are going to get a job in something you want to do and it will take the mental pressure off of finding a job.
Ricco mentioned that the most important thing a college student should work on is communication skills. Being able to speak and write is vital for any job, let alone a sports job. If you cannot write something like a business email, people are going to view you in a way that is not good. Communication is a skillset that Ricco – as well as many professors – believes is overlooked.
When breaking into the industry, Ricco said that once you start to build your resume, be creative. Putting yourself out there will lead to connections, and connections will lead to a job. Attending games, talking to scouts, doing your analytical research and so on are prime examples of things you can do to build your resume.
What you do in college is equally as important, such as getting good grades. However, Ricco also stresses the importance of being a part of the clubs and organizations that will help you build valuable connections for the field you want to be in.
Another important piece of advice that Ricco has for his department is the protection of and bringing awareness to sexual harassment that female journalists go through in this field.
“It’s gonna take education, it’s gonna take talking about it, it’s gonna take organic change within our group to get there and it’s gonna take some time,” Ricco said. “But I think the awareness, now, will help even in the short-term protect women from going through things that the women you eluded to went through.”
Lastly, Ricco wants to point out that the management is pushing to bring the black Mets uniforms back, hoping to raise some excitement among the younger generation of fans.
You can join the Rowan Center for Sports Communication and Social Impact next week, February 22 at 6 p.m., when Sports Business Reporter for CNBC Jabari Young, answers questions and provides advice to students in attendance.
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