How does a guy go from NBA beer vendor to big-time hockey executive in little more than a decade?
Why, throw out his pitching arm, of course.
The odyssey of Brian Byrnes, now the Phoenix Coyotes executive vice president of business operations, began 13 years ago as a right-handed hurler for St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.
Having a job in the community was among requirements for being on the team, so Byrnes began selling beer at San Antonio Spurs games. It was there that one of Byrnes’ regulars, a season-ticket holder, helped him get a job selling tickets for the Spurs.
Also, it was around that time that Byrnes hurt his rotator cuff and could no longer pitch.
After making cold calls for a year for basketball’s Spurs, Byrnes jumped to the San Antonio Riders of the upstart World League of American Football, where Byrnes sold tickets and advertising.
When that team folded, he decided he would use his marketing degree to sell school supplies in the Dallas area.
“That is when I thought I hit the big time. I was making $30,000 a year, and I had benefits,” said Byrnes, now 33. “I felt I was doing well, but I was selling glue.”
Itching to get back into the sports business, Byrnes left his secure sales job in 1993 to make $6 an hour selling tickets for a new hockey team that was relocating from Minnesota. By November of that year, the gamble had paid off. Byrnes was promoted to director of ticket sales for the Dallas Stars.
In 1998, Byrnes had become head of sales and marketing, and the Stars were one of the top five teams in the National Hockey League in attendance and ticket revenue.
That same year, Byrnes was promoted by Dallas businessman Tom Hicks to vice president of sales for his Southwest Sports Group, owner of the Stars, baseball’s Texas Rangers and Mesquite Championship Rodeo.
Byrnes helped the Rangers have three years of attendance growth, then felt he was ready for a new challenge. He came to Phoenix in March 2002.
Since joining the Coyotes, Byrnes has helped the team more than double the number of sponsors, increase the number of season-ticket holders by 36 percent and increase total revenue 59 percent. His current duties include overseeing ticket and suite sales, marketing, promotions, advertising, community relations and fan development.
“He has real experience in ticket sales in different kinds of sports. He comes from a background for the arena business that is invaluable,” Coyotes President Doug Moss said.
Byrnes, who also played a major role in the opening of Glendale Arena, said that one of his next goals is to increase the number of season-ticket holders from 7,500 to 10,000.
Byrnes said that he’s motivated to increase the team’s revenue streams so that the franchise has more capital to bring in additional talent and, ultimately, win the Stanley Cup.
“Right now, I can honestly say I have my dream job,” Byrnes said. “I get out of bed each day and look forward to the daily tasks.
“I love being the day-to-day guy . . . I enjoy moving the needle every day with creative programs.”