Interview with Ryan Horning, Assistant General Counsel, Oakland Athletics
Will Fogarty
Ryan Horning | Oakland Athletics
Posted Monday, May 8, 2017

There may be some misconceptions about legal jobs in professional sports. There’s probably a notion that sports jobs are glamorous. Describe a typical day or week at work.

There’s not really a typical day necessarily, but there is typical in the sense of what the days and weeks look like. It’s really not glamorous. But it’s fun, and it’s meaningful, and it’s symbolic to a lot of people.

Still, what I do when I go to work isn’t a lot different than what I’d be doing if I were in-house at a place like General Motors. It’s working on a number of different things. That’s really the interesting part—it’s a small team. You get to work in something that’s really high profile, but there are only two lawyers, so we get to do everything.

Wear all the hats?

Yes. On one day, it might be all contracts, although that may seem run of the mill. The next day, it’s ballpark related stuff, and I’m trying to figure out how we can improve our core asset—the place we play and the place we have to offer everyone on the outside. That [being asked to do so many different things] is really what makes the job not so typical.

What is typical is that, at its core, it’s still a job, and there still needs to be balance. With two little kids, my hours at the office tend to be relatively consistent and that’s what’s really important.

Did you know you wanted a job in sports law?

I did. Or, I did about halfway through my time at Skaddon. I started there in 2003, went there because it was a stable firm, and about three or fours year in, I decided I wanted to go in-house. I started thinking about where to do it and the advice I got was to find something I liked. My interests were broad, so someone suggested that I wanted to be a corporate generalist, allowing me to do a lot of different things, but also to do so at a place I found interesting. There are only a few industries that combine those things, and sports was one of them.

What experience helped you get this job? Is working at a big firm the best preparation?

I lucked out at Skaddon, because I got to work in a lot of different fields. I started on the litigation team, but I did a lot of international work, which tends to avoid going to court. So I had the litigation experience and I had the deal experience. I had a broad range of things I’d worked on. I also went to the partners and told them what I wanted to do, and that I didn’t want to take the partner route. I’d like to go in-house somewhere and they helped me out. I don’t think that’s unique to Skaddon; I think that people, when they know someone whom they like and respect are going to try and help that person out if they can.

I also went through a sports administration program at Northwestern after I decided to pursue the sports track. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary, but it did help get my head in that world.

If not a sports administration program, would you recommend doing something else that gets your head in that world?

Yes. I can’t say that I did this, but go and see if you can volunteer at your local high school. They all have athletic departments, they all have things that need to be done, and they probably don’t have the most resources. High schools, little leagues—sports organizations that have the needs, but might not have the resources to get those things done or the time to be dealing with them.

The other thing I did, and that you’re doing now, is to get in touch with people. Go and see if you can talk with them for half an hour. More people than not will be willing to do that. Try to make connections with people.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

You get to represent a community. The best sports teams, particularly baseball teams, really reflect their cities. You can think of the ones that do a great job with that. That’s what I want to do. I want our franchise to really reflect Oakland. That’s the biggest thrill for me. When people hear you work for the A’s, they light up. For me, that’s the best part of the job.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

The challenge can be trying to maintain an even keel because you can have some wild fluctuation in the performance of the franchise. Other companies can miss their earning marks, but the mood swings wildly in professional baseball. And it’s such a grind. That atmosphere can be felt across the organization at times.

What is your involvement with the ballpark negotiations, and can you provide an update on the status of those negotiations?

My involvement is that I help on the ballpark site by evaluating every potential site. A few are well known: the Coliseum, Howard Terminal, and the other, generally, is the lower Lake Merritt area. A lot of things go into that analysis, and we’ve been working on that for a while. We hope to—this year—make an announcement on which site we’d like to be at long term, and that’s really exciting. It’s been going on for a very long time. People have wondered what’s going on, and this year we have reaffirmed our commitment to Oakland. We have our “Rooted in Oakland” marketing campaign, and it will be great when we can make that final announcement.

It’s a lot of work. It’s looking at the transportation situations, what would the game-day experience be like, the surrounding areas, weather, zoning issues. Major league baseball has a list of regulations about the batter’s eye, the angle of the sun, and so on. We also think about things like the view and what the whole experience will be like for the fans. A host of things go into it, but we expect to make an announcement this year and go from there.

Who else sits at the table during these negotiations?

We have our President, Dave Kavill. He also serves as the President of the San Jose Earthquakes and oversaw the construction of Avaya stadium, which is beautiful and fills up every night. He has the experience in doing these things. We work with the City and the County a lot in looking at everything. Our ownership group is heavily involved, especially majority owner John Fisher. Most of our departments are involved in some capacity. The challenge is coordinating all of that.

What’s important is that all of the parts are moving in the same general direction. Everyone wants to get something done. Everyone has a relatively similar idea of what should be done, and I think we’re at that point. Everyone is excited about doing something in Oakland.

Growing up in Oakland, I know that the fans didn’t feel this was always the case.

The projects that get done in this realm, in whatever league it is, are the projects that have a group of people who are all interested in doing it and are committed to it. They put themselves out there to do it, and I’m lucky to be working with those people. We have a great relationship with the City at this point, a great relationship with Alameda County…so yes, it’s really nice. Everyone working in sync is key.

Ryan Horning is Assistant General Counsel for the Oakland Athletics. He came to the club in 2011, following eight years with the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Ryan is a proud graduate of Michigan State University and Chicago-Kent College of Law, and is even prouder to live in Oakland with his wife Lauren, their four-year old daughter Ainsley, and their soon-to-be two-year old son Reagan.