SPORTS Bill Benner: Giving up the corner office to follow your passion

Keywords Sports Business

My friend, former boss and fellow Jimmy Buffett Parrothead, Dale Neuburger, asked that I not turn this into one of those “Where are they now?” pieces because (A) he hasn’t been gone that long and (B) he hasn’t gone that far.

With regards to the latter, Neuburger still occupies an office in Pan Am Plaza, though not the top-floor corner office with its dramatic view of the city skyline, one of the perks associated with the presidency of the Indiana Sports Corp., which he served well for 12 years. Instead, his current workspace is a windowless inner office on Pan Am’s fifth floor.

With regards to the former, the only thing that’s changed is the high public profile he enjoyed during his tenure with ISC. Now, as then, Neuburger still is very much involved in amateur sports in general and swimming in particular, though his view is decidedly more national and international than local.

Still, it’s quite a change. Two years ago this month, Neuburger was preparing to serve as assistant chef de mission for the U.S. Olympic team at the Athens Games, representing the United States and the Americas on the international swimming federation (FINA) and getting the Sports Corp. revved up to host the post-Olympic Short Course World Swimming Championships.

Of course, with that event came the logistical challenge of building two 25-meter pools in Conseco Fieldhouse and drawing crowds into a basketball venue to watch swimming. In October.

As you may recall, the construction of the pools went off without a hitch. So did the championships, which drew record crowds, sustained the post-Olympics swimming buzz, and re-established Indy’s can-do attitude in hosting amateur sporting events.

It also essentially served as Neuburger’s farewell. Shortly thereafter, he left ISC to move to locally based PROS Consulting. With PROS, Neuburger has focused on working with Olympic sport National Governing Bodies (NGBs) on developing business plans, 14 to date. He’s also become a director of TSE Consulting, an international firm. His clients include American cities seeking international exposure and events, something he knows well since he presided over five world championships and the World Police & Fire Games while at the Sports Corp.

More important, the flexibility of his PROS and TSE schedules allowed Neuburger to expand his volunteer role with FINA. He is chairman of the FINA Swimming Commission that will oversee world championships in Shanghai, China; Melbourne, Australia; Manchester, England; and Rome, as well as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“Some may regard it as crazy,” says Neuburger, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who swam for Princeton University, “but I made a decision [leaving the Sports Corp.] related to my professional career that was predicated on my volunteer activities. I had an opportunity to do something significant for a sport that I love and one that I’ve been involved with for 50 years.”

The FINA responsibilities mean keeping the passport handy. Since 2001, Neuburger has traveled to 26 countries. This weekend, for example, he’s in Colombia.

Those who know Neuburger well notice a man who is more relaxed, and more at peace with himself and his place in the sports universe. Bidding and staging sporting events sounds glamorous, but it is tough, dicey work.

“The competitive landscape is much more difficult today for the premier events,” Neuburger says. “That means to be successful you need higher levels of commitment than ever before because the status quo isn’t good enough. I think the assessment of events that Indianapolis has been most successful with over the years have been ones that have been well-developed but which Indianapolis was able to take to a higher level. Seeking those kinds of events is very challenging. It’s like picking the stock market.”

But the pursuit of those events-and landing them-can be intoxicating. In addition to numerous Olympic trials, Neuburger’s tenure included landing the NCAA and forging the relationships that brought the Big Ten tournaments to Indy. Beginning in 2008, the Big Ten tournament will call Indianapolis home for at least five years.

“There is a special exhilaration that comes with putting together a successful bid because it is the culmination of so many organizations and individuals coming together to yield a tremendous result for the community,” he says. “There are few highs that are much better than that.”

Neuburger’s run at ISC was a strong one, and he forged and sustained valuable relationships in the realm of amateur athletics. Consider that from 1993 to 2005, Indianapolis staged more NCAA and Olympicrelated events than any other American city.

Probably his biggest mistake was hiring a former sportswriter to do communications work for the Sports Corp.

Wonder where that guy is now

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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