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Small Steps, Big Dreams: Michael Ryan Ruiz’s Journey to ESPN Radio

This feature is presented to you by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration

By: Joe Londergan, @Joehio_

Michael Ryan Ruiz (left), Executive Producer ofThe Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN Radio, with professional wrestler Ric Flair. (Image via Michael Ryan Ruiz)

In the constantly changing landscape of sports broadcasting, there are certain qualities that can carry aspiring personalities, journalists, and producers a long way. For instance: passion, perseverance, conviction, and loyalty. Michael Ryan Ruiz is someone who can attest to the importance of all of these.

For nearly 10 years, he has served as the executive producer of ESPN Radio’s The Dan Le Batard Show, and in that time, he’s gained plenty of valuable insight about the world of sports broadcasting. While he is an experienced producer now, at one point, he was just another high school student with dreams of working in the sports industry.

“I knew I always wanted to work in sports because it was something that when I was younger I had a lot of passion for. I also knew that I needed to find the right mentor. I think the first step for me was when I was in high school and I saw the Miami Heat were hosting this job fair at their facility. I made some contacts there and being a big hockey fan at the time, I ended up taking a sales internship with the Florida Panthers and started that my last day of high school.”

“From there, I moved on to pharmaceutical sales while I was in college, which I started to feel like I had no business doing. However, I would always listen to Dan Le Batard’s radio show while I was working and I decided that it was something that I wanted to at least try. So I left my paying job to fully commit to an internship in radio.”

Born and raised in Miami, Ruiz graduated from Miami Dade College with an associate’s degree in communications. During his time as a student, Ruiz interned for The Dan Le Batard Show and eventually found himself working for the show full-time, in an official role, as a producer in 2007.

As an intern, Ruiz used his astute perseverance and uncanny ability to say, “Yes” to everything to stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression.

“In order to make an impression, I felt like I had to keep saying yes to some of those crappy shifts that exist in radio and things of that nature. I had a program director at the time that kept telling me that there was a position for me on the office staff and it just would never end up happening. It was a pretty tumultuous time for the station as a whole because there wasn’t any money. It was a hard grind. I was saying yes to so much. Since the jobs were far away, I was putting so many miles on my car and spending so much money on gas that it was getting to a point where I couldn’t afford to chase the dream any more.”

After spending more than a year as an intern, Ruiz was ready to give up on his dream and change gears, but fortunately he didn’t. Little did he know, his big break was just right around the corner.

“Just as I was about to give up after a year and a half, I got a full-time job as a producer on the show after someone on the team left to executive produce another show.I didn’t particularly feel like I was qualified for that job at the time, but they had faith in me and I learned how to be a producer on the job. The learning doesn’t ever really stop. I’m still learning, still trying to get better.”

As he has grown as a professional and his role has expanded, Ruiz has also learned plenty of lessons in leadership.

“Prior to this, I’ve never really had to manage people before and over the last few years, I’ve learned how to do that. Once we went national, I felt like I was starting to put a little too much on myself because I wanted everything to go well and I knew how to get things done. I had a hard time trusting people and letting them fail, because I was afraid of what people would think of me for it. I eventually learned how to do that and I’ve applied those lessons to being a producer and getting the most out of a show as well. It may seem counterintuitive, but in order for more to get done, I had to do less.”

Even though Ruiz has had the opportunity to work elsewhere during his tenure with the show, he sees no reason to leave having grown comfortable on one of ESPN’s most highly acclaimed radio shows.

Ryan (left) with journalist and ESPN Radio personality Dan Le Batard. (Image via Sports Talk 790 AM The Ticket)

“I like being a part of this team. I like being a smaller fish on a big show. I’ve never really had that sort of urge to be a solo on air talent. I’ve just always wanted to help craft the best radio that I was a fan of.”

While he is comfortable in his role, Ruiz also credits the loyalty he has been shown as a reason to not want to leave.

“I think what makes Dan special as a mentor in this industry is his incredible loyalty. That kind of loyalty is really difficult to find in this industry. It’s not the easiest industry right now and that loyalty is priceless and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay it.”

When it comes to the on-air product, being able to trust their creative instincts has served Ruiz and Le Batard well in producing a show that blends the worlds of sports and pop culture, with some sociocultural discussion as well. Guests for the show often include figures from outside the world of sports ranging from comedians and musical performers to university professors.

“Ultimately, the base of what we do always has to be fun. We’re just always trying to make each other laugh. In terms of guest booking, we have a terrific guest booker that works with us now who is much better at it than I was. She’s very organized and very on top of the entertainment calendar and who has stuff to promote. I just want people on the show that Dan will find interesting. The motto is, ‘if Dan thinks it’s good, then it’s good for the audience’ and it has worked out well so far.”

That same boldness has led to occasional criticism about the show’s edginess and lack of fear about taking a position on social issues surrounding the sports world. For some though, that’s what draws them in.

“People have said to me that that is part of the appeal: we don’t play it safe. You don’t know what we’re going to say and we’re always sort of on that line.”

While working in broadcasting has taught Ruiz a lot about life, his other interests, including a love for music, have proved crucial for his personal and career growth.

“Music is what it means to you. I don’t like to shade artists when they’re putting their all into something. That same attitude applies to sports personalities for me. There’s a shocking amount of sports personalities that people just paint with a broad brush and say, ‘Oh they don’t really believe what they’re saying.’”

“Colin Cowherd gets hit with that a lot and he’s one of the more talented people I’ve ever seen in this industry and he has conviction about everything he says. I originally thought Skip Bayless was a troll, but I’ve asked people that have worked closely with him and he truly believes everything he says. So I can’t really fault him if he has conviction. I can disagree, but I have to respect the hustle.”

At the end of the day, Ruiz is a living example of the biggest keys to growing a lasting career in sports broadcasting: eagerness to learn and the attitude of a team player.

“Find a mentor. Ask questions. I’m a big believer in paying it forward, so I always take time to help out anybody that reaches out to me. If I see it, I try to do my best to help them out because I had people that did that for me and answered my questions. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Soak in everything like a sponge. Also, value loyalty: a precious commodity in any industry, but this one especially.”

If you listen to the show or plan to at some point, you’ll find the physical proof of how Ruiz and the show’s team are setting a positive example for sports broadcasting professionals. Not only do they let their passion show in their work, they persevere through struggles the show faces, they speak and act with conviction, and they are fiercely loyal to one another, and that is what has made the show such a success.

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