SPORTS: Behind the scenes with the city’s sports machine

Keywords Sports Business
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For more than 30 years, I arrived at sporting events focusing primarily on the outcome, searching for a good angle, collecting a few quotes, and hoping to beat deadline.

The only times I ever really noticed the staging of an event was to complain about it. I had a bad seat at the press table … or the final box score was too slow in arriving … or there weren’t enough telephones … or, the sorriest gripe of all, the free food wasn’t of sufficient quality or quantity. Yikes, what a moaner.

Did I ever give a thought to the way the decorative banners were hung? To how the event was marketed? To the music that was played in the background? To the presentation of press conferences? To the design of the logo? To the coordination that takes place between event managers and venue managers? To budgets? To the actual bidding for the event and how competitive that can be? To the literally thousands of details and hours that go into planning before that first ball is tossed in the air or swimmer jumps off the blocks?

Well, maybe a little. But only a little.

That has all changed.

For nearly the past four years, my day job has been vice president of communications for Indiana Sports Corp. After those three-plus decades toiling as a hack for The Indianapolis Star, I went to “the other side” as a quasi-flack, trying to form and disseminate positive messages about the Sports Corp. and the events and associations it brings to town.

Putting it mildly, it has been an eyeopening experience to witness, firsthand, the incredible dedication of my colleagues and the thousands of volunteers who continue to make Indy a cut above-if not several cuts above-the competition in the attraction and staging of regional, national and international events.

I can write about this more freely now because, as of Jan. 7, I no longer work for the Sports Corp. I tendered my resignation in mid-December to embark on new pursuits.

And, just in case you’re curious, as soon as I figure out what they are, I’ll let you know. One of them, certainly, is to continue to write this column for IBJ because I remain, at heart, an ink-stained wretch.

Nonetheless, part of my agreement with the IBJ editors was that I wouldn’t use this space to promote Sports Corp.-related activities and events. With the occasional exception that was cleared beforehand, we stuck to that.

Now, with the Sports Corp. in my rearview mirrors, I feel obliged to remind you what a terrific organization it has been, helping to reshape and redefine our city’s image long before I arrived in the offices at Pan Am Plaza.

I hope it will continue to do so long after I’m gone.

Even as I covered Sports Corp. events over the years, and came to know many of the folks working there, I had no appreciation for how they got those events to the event stage. I’ve since learned it is painstaking attention to detail, going the extra mile even if it turns into a marathon, highly creative use of often limited resources, an amazing mix of staff and volunteers, and an unparalleled devotion to the task.

Now, I no longer wonder how Indianapolis in general and the Sports Corp. in particular built a national and international reputation. I’ve witnessed the process.

For 25 years, we’ve had a great thing going in the “sports initiative.” When conceived, it was way ahead of its time and the competition. Now the competition comes from everywhere, often armed with greater resources.

But resources can’t match the Sports Corp.’s resourcefulness.

I’d like to name all my now ex-colleagues and tell you how special each one is, but space and the fear of leaving someone out prevents me from doing so. And they won’t mind, because I’ve also learned during my time there that it isn’t about who gets the credit, but how the job gets done.

Suffice it to say it is a tremendous group, the sum greater than any of its parts. I’m glad I can return to giving them their due.

Now then …

One of the visionaries for the Sports Corp. and the amateur sports movement is Jim Morris, the former Lilly Endowment and Indianapolis Water Co. exec who now runs the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

Jim needs our help. Let me correct that; the people Jim helps need our help.

Those who know Jim won’t be surprised to learn that, within days of the South Asian tsumani, he was setting up shop in the stricken region, facilitating shipments of food to survivors.

What can you do to support Jim? Simple. Go to From there, it takes only two clicks to make a donation to the relief effort.

Do it for an Indy guy doing good. But more than that, do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Benner is 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 email to

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