Allison Melangton is a trailblazer.
She is the second woman among 46 Super Bowl Host Committee CEOs, and she developed the Indianapolis formula for hosting America’s most popular sporting event.
Melangton and her staff helped turn a one-day football game into a 10-day celebration that attracted 1.1 million people downtown and millions in visitor spending. But with the game over and that job ending in June, Melangton, just weeks past her 50th birthday, doesn’t know where her own career path will lead.
“I absolutely want to stay in central Indiana,” said Melangton, a Carmel resident. “And I’d like to remain in sports management.”
One thing is certain: Melangton will be in demand.
“My hope is that Indianapolis doesn’t lose her,” said Pete Ward, Indianapolis Colts senior vice president and 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee board member. “I can tell you, she’ll be in the highest demand, and far beyond this market. She pulled off the best hosting job in the history of the Super Bowl, and that’s widely recognized among sports people nationwide.”
So impressed are executives around the NFL, Ward said, that the time table for Indianapolis to get the big game again might be significantly accelerated.
“I keep getting e-mails and phone calls from people around the league encouraging Indianapolis to bid for the Super Bowl again, and to bid soon,” Ward said. “Everyone in the NFL is ecstatic about the job Indianapolis did hosting this Super Bowl, and that has everything to do with the job Allison and her staff did.”
Melangton, local host committee Chairman Mark Miles and other board members have already discussed the possibility of Indianapolis’ bidding for another Super Bowl and the timing of that. Melangton didn’t discount being involved in that effort again, and said she’d even consider being CEO of another local host committee if she had the motivation and physical stamina at the time to do so.
In the meantime, Melangton wants to make sure her next position is a lasting one.
“I’m not a job hopper,” she said. “I’ve only had three jobs in my whole life.”
Before she took her post with the Super Bowl host committee in 2008, Melangton spent 14 years at the Indiana Sports Corp., where she served in a number of roles, eventually as senior vice president in charge of such events as the men’s and women’s Big Ten basketball championships; NCAA Final Fours; and Olympic swimming, diving and wrestling trials.
Before that, she spent 11 years climbing the ladder at USA Gymnastics, eventually landing as director of national and international events.
There’s been speculation that Melangton might be groomed to replace Susan Williams as Indiana Sports Corp. president. But Williams, Melangton’s previous boss, said she’s not ready to retire.
There’s even been some talk of Melangton’s running for political office. Though she dismisses that possibility, the speculation is understandable, said Karl Ahlrichs, a human resources consultant for Indianapolis-based Gregory & Appel.
“Look at what the CEO of the Salt Lake Olympics host committee is doing right now,” Ahlrichs said. “Mitt Romney is running for president.”
It’s not a stretch to compare Melangton to Romney, Ahlrichs said.
“Her stock is sky-high right now,” he added. “She might find her skill set is valued beyond the world of sports. No doubt, presidents of companies and boards of directors will seek her. They get what someone with her abilities brings to the table.”
Ahlrichs thinks the demand for Melangton could be similar to former executive-level politicians, someone like ex-Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.
Shortly after being defeated by Republican Greg Ballard in 2007, Peterson landed a job with Eli Lilly and Co., leading a division responsible for international, federal and state government relations; public policy planning and development; external and internal communications; corporate social responsibility; branding; and community and public relations.
Another job possibility for Melangton could be a collegiate athletics director, said University of Notre Dame Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick, who has known Melangton since she joined USA Gymnastics in 1983 and was one of the architects of Indianapolis’ bid to host the Super Bowl.
“She certainly understands the athletes, the media and how to coordinate events, so I think that’s something she could do very well,” said Swarbrick, who left his post as a partner with Baker & Daniels in 2008 to take his current position. “I think she could be the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if she wanted to be.”
Central Indiana, with its plethora of sports organizations from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to USA Track & Field, certainly will afford Melangton ample opportunities to stay local and in sports if she so chooses.
“For a market of its size and considering the field of her choice, you really couldn’t ask for a better situation if she wants to stay home,” Ahlrichs said.
Four companies have already approached her about coming to work for them, Melangton said. She wouldn’t specify which ones.
“I’ve had two somewhat general conversations with two of them and specific, more detailed conversations with two others,” Melangton said from an office that still looks as busy as she has been over the last three years.
Melangton added that she promised Williams she’d talk to her before making any decision.
There’s little doubt, Williams is interested in getting one of her all-stars back in the ISC stable.
“It would be inappropriate for me to discuss her future right now,” Williams said. “I’ll let her speak for herself.”
Whatever she does, Melangton doesn’t want to take another full-time position until after Labor Day.
Until then, she’ll be busy closing out the books, completing reports on Super Bowl week, and playing a role in the Summer Olympics.
After a short vacation, Melangton will depart for London, where she’ll work from July 20 to Aug. 20 as an associate producer for NBC covering gymnastics at the Summer Olympics. That’s a job she knows well.
Melangton has worked at seven previous Olympic Games, four as an associate producer of the gymnastics competition for NBC. She has won four Emmy Awards for her Olympics coverage.
As talented as she is, TV production is not among her greatest strengths, said those who know her best.
“Her biggest strength is in relationship-building and in matching an event to the things that are important to the community that hosts it,” Williams said. “She has a unique ability to draw the community into an event, and there are any number of organizations, in sports or otherwise, that could utilize a person like that.”
Ward said Melangton has a personality that’s unusual and sought after in the big-ego sports industry. “Her calm, cool demeanor through a hurricane of activity is amazing to watch.”
While her co-workers, peers and minions say they’ve rarely seen Melangton lose her cool, she says she “knows when to put her foot down.”
“She doesn’t lead by pushing or pulling people,” said Indiana Pacers President Jim Morris. “She leads by building consensus. People follow Allison because they want to, not because they have to.”
Melangton’s organizational skills are so legendary among her colleagues and staffers that she’s been called “the binder whisperer.”
“I can find any piece of information at any time in one of these binders within four minutes,” said Melangton, as she sat in an office cluttered with dozens of footballs, football helmets, white boards and more than two dozen binders each stuffed with more than 200 pages.
Melangton favors binders over electronic databases because she can take them anywhere—including her son, Cameron’s, sporting events—and pore over them.
But she had to scrap her day planner for a BlackBerry because she couldn’t fit all her appointments in her spiral-notebook-like planner.
“I had as many as 11 meetings a day, and it was just too much for those little calendar slots,” Melangton said.
She used her BlackBerry so much that she wore out three of them in three years.
“They said I was pushing the buttons so much, they just gave out,” she said.
It’s not just binders of information she can organize. As host committee CEO, she managed a $29 million budget, 35 full-time staffers, 60 committees and more than 8,000 volunteers who were critical in handling everything from the Super Scarves initiative to designing and operating the Super Bowl Village and overseeing the Near Eastside Legacy Project.
She worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week over the last two years, Melangton said.
Her organization and stamina are among her strongest assets, Swarbrick said. But there’s one attribute that stands out above the rest.
“She embodies level-five leadership as someone who focuses on the good of the enterprise at the exclusion of her own self-interests. It’s never about her.”•