As the new commissioner of the National Professional Soccer League, Steve Ryan sees a bright, new beginning for a league that's about to begin its 17th season next month.
Ryan, two weeks into the position after succeeding Steve Paxos, brings an extensive marketing background in professional sports, including 13 years with the National Hockey League as its president and chief operating officer of NHL Enterprises.
Yesterday afternoon at Baltimore Blast headquarters, he talked about the NPSL's future and the role he'll play. Task No. 1 - selling indoor soccer.
"I think we have a very interesting and significant upside in terms of the NPSL," said Ryan. "It really starts with basically several ingredients. No. 1 is the game - the product itself - and not only is it healthy, we have a very exciting game that has a lot of appeal in terms of family entertainment."
Changes are already under way. The league headquarters will be moved to the New York metropolitan area from Canton, Ohio; a public relations firm with expertise in media sports and entertainment has been retained by the league, and an expansion franchise - the Toronto Thunder-Hawks - has been added this season.
"I can tell you as one of the owners and speaking for a lot of other owners, we are very, very happy to have [Ryan] here," said Blast owner Ed Hale Sr.
"He gives us a new dimension from what we've had in the past in terms of management of the league. Steve was with NHL properties as president and CEO of that group and they were responsible for marketing and television - a lot of the things we are lacking in our league."
The Blast, with its strong history and foundation, is a franchise that can provide a blueprint for the ones still developing.
"We've been blessed here to have very strong leadership on the business side with Ed Hale and on the soccer side with Kevin Healey," said Ryan. "And that's true in other markets, too. We've got some very talented owners that are really coming together and hopefully developing a common vision. But it doesn't happen unless it starts at the top."
Ryan and the league's board of directors will meet in Baltimore on Oct. 19 to "discuss where we're going and how we're going to get there."
The Blast is set to begin practice on Oct. 2 as it prepares for its Oct. 20 season opener against Kansas City at Baltimore Arena.
"This is a very exciting time," said Healey, the Blast's head coach and general manager. "... When you bring in a guy like Steve and the owners all coming together the way they are, you just know what potential is out there.
"It's exciting, but also a lot of hard work. I think what we show in Baltimore as a franchise is we're ready to go to work - whatever it takes, every day and all day - to make it successful."