Nolan Ryan Takes the Long and Diverse View for Business Empire Growth

    • Ryan’s business endeavors range from cattle to coffee shops.
    • A Hall of Fame resume has helped life after baseball and helps get the family company in the door, but it’s the 'product’s job to stay there.'

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Nolan Ryan’s name carries a lot of weight, especially in Texas. 

But even so, the Hall of Fame pitcher was ahead of his time in the way he thought about life after baseball when he retired in 1993.

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“A lot of the players I played with after their careers were over, they hadn’t prepared for life after baseball and had nothing to do. I was quite aware of that,” Ryan, who pitched 27 seasons for four teams, said. “The length of a baseball career isn’t normally very long, so I did what I needed to prepare.” 

Ryan’s business portfolio, Ryan Sanders Sports & Entertainment, has holdings from a cattle farm and meat company to a turf company and a community bank. Houston-based investment banker Don Sanders is a friend and business partner.

Among the first businesses set up by the Texas native, who managed to pitch nine seasons for the Astros and five for the Rangers, was his cattle operation. Ryan started buying Texas ranch land in the 1960s, and cattle have led to many of his other businesses, including Nolan Ryan Beef, which supplies a variety of grocery stores and fast food restaurants in Texas in addition to the official hot dog at Minute Maid Park, Dell Diamond, Whataburger Field, and GlobeLife Park.

Ryan has three ranches in Texas, where he spends most of his time now.

“Owning a cattle ranch was something I always wanted to do, and baseball afforded me that opportunity, and I knew I needed to do something aside from the sport,” Ryan said. 

As he finished his career, he also sought ways for his family to stay involved in baseball. In 2000, the family launched the Minor League Baseball team Round Rock Express, near Austin. 

The baseball team has since expanded to include RS3 Sports Turf and RS3 Strategic Hospitality. The turf company has maintenance agreements with several colleges and MiLB teams and has performed renovations at the Cotton Bowl and Minute Maid Park, among others. It also has a variety of proprietary products, including field material like infield mix and mound clay and NR34 Synthetic Turf.

His hospitality company is the food and beverage provider at seven sports and entertainment venues. Ryan Sanders Baseball is also a strategic investor in the Austin startup Home Run Dugout, which offers a virtual at-bat experience similar to the golf simulators available at Dell Diamond.

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“The business isn’t something we had a master plan for,” Reese Ryan, Ryan’s youngest son and chief executive or chairman of all the companies, said. “Once we got into the baseball ownership side, it allowed us to expand into all those other areas.”

“We got into turf by accident. We had a talented groundskeeper in the early 2000s and kept fielding inbound calls. It was a great way to keep guys busy.”

The Ryans don’t shy away from the all-time strikeout leader’s recognition as a reason his business portfolio continues to grow. 

“It’s been a real advantage having my dad’s name to it,” Reese Ryan said. “The relationships he’s built over the years have helped too. But the way he used to tell it is: he’ll get us in the door, but it’s the company and products’ job to stay there.”

Beyond his baseball and cattle operation, Nolan Ryan has set up the Rbank, the second community bank he has started – the first, Express Bank was sold to a larger bank in 2005 – and includes 10 locations in Texas with assets of more than $500 million. 

The Ryan family also holds the Texas franchise rights for Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, with five locations in Austin.

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While the company continues to grow both in size and scope, the Ryans both said they’ve been selective in what additions are made, ensuring things align with their core beliefs.

“We’ve found that we have to be actively involved for them to be successful,” Nolan Ryan said. “We’ve had opportunities come up that we didn’t feel we could contribute the time that it would take for that venture to be successful.”