Pacers, Colts execs travel to Mexico to help jazz up water polo

International Olympic officials want water polo to have more glitz and glamour. They want the game-day presentation to have as much sparkle as splash.

International water polo leaders are counting on a pair of Indianapolis sports executives to bring a new level of show-time entertainment to one of the oldest sports in the Olympics.

Indianapolis Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward and Indiana Pacers Chief Operating Officer Rick Fuson will address a gathering at the FINA World Water Polo Conference in Cancun, Mexico, on Thursday, the first of two days of the conference.

The gathering is a first-of-its kind pow-wow to take water polo “to a whole new level,” said FINA Vice President Dale Neuburger. About 175 of the world’s top FINA and water polo officials will attend the event.

“The International Olympic Committee’s message is clear,” Neuburger said. “We must evolve. The presentation of the game has to continue to be modern or the sport will be replaced [in the Olympics].”

Wrestling, a sport which has struggled to maintain its place in the Olympics, has served as a cautionary tale, Neuburger said. Some IOC officials complained that wrestling had failed to keep up with the times by maintaining the same competition presentation for decades. Water polo has been a part of the Olympics since 1900 and some of those same complaints have surfaced about that sport.

Fuson and Ward will be talking about game-day activities and especially the “frenetic build-up” to an NBA or NFL game, including player introductions, the use of fireworks, music, lighting, cheerleaders and mascots to whip up the crowd and other elements used to make the NBA and NFL experience cutting-edge and exciting, Neuburger said.

“I’m going to focus on how we entertain people from the time fans walk in the door until tip-off,” Fuson said. “I’ll be telling them about our experiences not only with the Pacers but with the WNBA’s Fever and Indianapolis Ice as well.”

FINA is especially excited, Neuburger said, to see Fuson’s side-by-side comparison of the pre-game presentation of an NBA game versus the pre-game presentation of an Olympic final in water polo.

Ward said he'll be talking to the water polo delegation about "making game day an event, not just a game." He'll focus a big chunk of his presentation on the use of technology within Lucas Oil Stadium, including the high-definition jumbotron, providing wi-fi connectivity and the Colts app, which allows fans in the stadium to see replays from six different angles.

"Professional football and water polo isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, but hopefull I can impart something useful," Ward said.

When Neuburger and other FINA officials sought experts to help them jazz up water polo’s game-day presentation, they didn’t hesitate to call on the Pacers and Colts. And Neuburger emphasized it wasn’t just because he knew them from their Indianapolis connections.

“The purpose in bringing in Rick and Pete is to learn from the best,” said Neuburger, former president of the Indiana Sports Corp. “It demonstrates that Indianapolis professional sports personnel are recognized as among the best anywhere.”

Fuson made a name for himself within FINA circles in 2004, when Bankers Life Fieldhouse—then Conseco Fieldhouse—hosted the indoor short course world swimming championships.

“Rick is very highly thought of within FINA,” Neuburger said. “What he did with the fieldhouse in 2004 was phenomenal.”

Ward became known to FINA not only for his work with the Colts but also his work in helping the city of Indianapolis host the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Everyone within FINA has great respect not just for the NFL, but for what the Colts do as well. The Super Bowl here was an absolute extravaganza,” Neuburger said. “Another big reason to bring in Pete and Rick is their level of experience. Both have been at it for more than 30 years and have seen the evolutions of their respective leagues.”

In addition to Fuson and Ward, officials from the National Hockey League, International Cricket Council as well as Rugby, BMX bicycle racing and beach volleyball will give presentations at FINA’s water polo conference this week.

Given all the attention—and some negative reaction—garnered by Mayor Greg Ballard’s efforts to bring big-time cricket to Indianapolis, it might seem ironic that the International Cricket Council is making a presentation. But Neuburger points out that India’s biggest cricket league brings in more annual revenue than the NBA.

Viewpoints of sponsors and media partners will also be given.

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