Allison Melangton tackles the role of president and CEO of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee
Her desk is stacked with papers, and numerous thick binders are lined up in the credenza above. Newspaper clippings and business cards cover a bulletin board, and a wide three-month calendar is propped against one wall –– a reminder of dates for taxi-driver training, press conferences and volunteer orientations. Boxes of Super Scarves, each folded in a plastic bag, are grouped together in one corner.
With its bright yellow walls, the room seems to emit its own energy. Since May 2008, Melangton has channeled that energy –– and endless hours of hard work –– into her role as president and CEO of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee.
Years of planning, organizing and managing sporting events have led to this opportunity. Now, as Super Bowl XLVI approaches, Melangton’s efforts take center stage as Indianapolis and thousands of volunteers roll out the red carpet to the world.
A passion ignites
A large part of Melangton’s life growing up in Auburn, Maine, was sports, namely skiing. Her father was an elite national-level ski jumper who competed in two Olympic trials.
She was captain of her high school gymnastics team for two years and assisted her school’s athletic director with small projects.
“I think working in the athletic office got me thinking that I could make a career out of managing sports,” she says. “That’s probably what sparked my interest.”
When it came time to apply for college, Melangton didn’t have the advantages of school visits and online research. She was drawn to Colorado State University for a few reasons. Although she had never been to the state, its outdoor activities interested her. CSU had a gymnastics team. And it offered a major that not many schools did at the time: sports management.
Despite being far from home in an unfamiliar state, Melangton loved the experience.
“Once I got there, I never thought I would leave,” she says. “I thought I would be in Colorado the rest of my life.”
When she was a freshman, the school hosted the gymnastics World Team Trials, for which Melangton and her teammates helped organize volunteers and transportation. That experience sealed the deal for her. Sports management was exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
“It was in the sport I love, and it was organizing and helping other people –– two things I was drawn to,” she says. “It was good exposure for me.”
After graduation, Melangton accepted a six-month position with the U.S. Olympic Committee, working on the 1983 National Sports Festival. Around that time, Indianapolis leaders were starting to build a sports tourism industry, luring national governing bodies of various sports to move their headquarters to the city.
One of those was USA Gymnastics. After her tenure with the USOC, Melangton interviewed over the phone for a position with the organization. Without ever having set foot in Indiana and knowing anyone here, she accepted a job, packed up her car and headed east.
Not only was she again settling in a state she had never visited, Melangton found a roommate via an ad in The Indianapolis Star and moved in with a woman she had never met.
“Times are different now,” she says with a laugh.
As USA Gymnastics’ transportation coordinator, Melangton booked airline tickets and hotels for men’s and women’s teams of all levels. Under executive director Mike Jacki, whom Melangton counts as one of her mentors, she advanced to manager, director and then vice president, eventually running the organization’s major events.
Throughout her career, Melangton has worked seven Olympic Games, four of those as associate producer of gymnastics coverage for NBC Sports. She has earned four Emmy Awards for her work.
Melangton loved her time with USA Gymnastics, but the constant travel was starting to wear on her. By this time, she and her husband, Tom, were thinking about starting a family.
“I knew I needed to make a change to make sure I had some balance,” she says.
During her time with gymnastics, Melangton developed relationships with Jack Swarbrick, corporate counsel for USA Gymnastics and chairman of the board at the Indiana Sports Corporation, and Sandy Knapp, board chairwoman of USA Gymnastics and founder of ISC.
Both Swarbrick and Knapp informed Melangton of a job opening at ISC. In 1994, Melangton bid adieu to life on the go and joined the organization as director of events.
At ISC, Melangton put her planning and organizing skills to use to secure bids for events like the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, the World Swimming Championships and dozens of others in track and field, diving, synchronized swimming, gymnastics and men’s basketball.
She was doing what she loved with one important difference.
“The big transition to the Sports Corporation is that I got roots in the community,” she says, “roots with corporate individuals and civic organizations. It was a big change for me, but it was a welcome change.”
The greater picture
What is it about Indianapolis that has made the city so successful in landing sporting events? Melangton attributes it to the leadership who not only had a collective vision to create a sports industry in Indy, but actually executed that vision and grew it to what it is today.
“I don’t think they realized how successful it was going to be,” she says. The Pan American Games in 1987 caused a big shift in how people looked at Indy –– including those who lived here, she adds. The games drew more than 35,000 volunteers.
“People looked at themselves differently. Look at what we just did. I loved being a part of that.”
Melangton recalls a conversation she had with Jim Morris, who said that if Indianapolis hosts a sporting event and doesn’t do something great for the community while the event is in town, a huge opportunity will have been missed.
“That happens a lot in other cities,” she says. “They just host the event, and then it’s over.”
That strong belief in involving the community carried over into Melangton’s next role: planning Indianapolis’ biggest event to date.
Melangton served as bid coordinator for Super Bowl XLV in 2011. Months of hard work and fun turned into disappointment when the city lost the bid to Dallas. But it wasn’t all for nothing.
“We knew that we had made people pay attention and that Indy was going to be around for Super Bowl bids,” she says. “I think we laid a lot of great groundwork for that.”
After it was decided that Indy would aim to land the 2012 game, Melangton and crew had about 2 1⁄2 months to finalize their bid. Many of the logistical requirements carried over from 2011. The tough part came in deciding how to make the Super Bowl Indianapolis’ own. A big part of that was the inclusion of the Near Eastside Legacy Project, a long-term effort to revitalize the area.
“I think it really resonated with the owners,” Melangton says of the 32 individuals who would vote on Super Bowl XLVI’s host city.
The few weeks to finalize the bid were “fast and furious.” But the group felt good about Indy’s chances.
Finally, in May 2008, it was time for the decision. After their presentation, Melangton and about 10 others were quietly sitting in a room in an Atlanta hotel when Colts owner Jim Irsay came in wearing a big smile.
“He said, ‘We got it,’” Melangton recalls. “It was great. I’m a hugger, so there was a lot of hugging going on. Even the people that weren’t huggers were hugging.”
Melangton didn’t have long to relish the decision. Shortly before she left for the Olympics in Beijing, ISC chairman Swarbrick urgently asked to meet with her. He was taking the athletics director position at the University of Notre Dame, and he, along with Mark Miles, host committee chairman, wanted to offer Melangton the role of Host Committee president.
“I said, ‘That’s great. How long do I have to think about it, because I’m leaving for China tomorrow?’” Melangton remembers.
The decision needed to be made that day.
“I went home and talked to my husband, and he knew that it would be us taking on the Super Bowl, not just me,” she says. “It was a job for our family.”
After careful consideration, Melangton and her family decided the role was too great to turn down. She accepted the offer and headed to Beijing.
Down to business
After returning from China, Melangton began a three-year stint of living and breathing Super Bowl XLVI. Her days are full of staff meetings, committee meetings and presentations –– a schedule that’s only intensified over the past couple of months.
And forget about leaving work at work. Melangton frequently burns the midnight oil at home.
In the very beginning, one of the Host Committee’s main goals was to engage as many people as they could –– football fans or not. It’s a goal they’ve worked on every day leading up to Feb. 5.
“Because it’s not Allison’s Super Bowl; it’s not Mark’s Super Bowl; it’s everybody’s Super Bowl,” she says. “I loved that philosophy.”
While Miles got busy on the Legacy Project, Melangton jumped right in to a few pet projects of her own. One was 1st and Green, a web-based program where participants log environmentally friendly activities, like carpooling and taking shorter showers.
“We were working on that two weeks out of the gate,” she says. “We got it rolling early enough that I think it can really make a difference.”
To date, participants have offset more than 1.3 million pounds of carbon and conserved 2.3 million gallons of water.
Another is Indy’s Super Cure, inspired by Melangton’s friend and breast cancer survivor Traci Runge. Super Cure is designed to increase breast tissue donations and raise both awareness and money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center. During a fundraising gala last November, supporters helped reach the goal of raising more than $1 million for the bank.
“That’s special to me, because I feel like we’re making a big difference beyond Indiana borders,” Melangton says.
With the NFL’s lockout at the beginning of the season, one might think the Host Committee was thrown into a panic. Melangton admits she worried at times. But Miles calmed her with an oft-uttered mantra.
“Mark had a great saying: Don’t let the distraction be a distraction,” she says. “Every time I’d start worrying, he’d say, ‘Let’s deal with where we are right now.’ We didn’t let the staff be distracted by it, and we kept moving. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be ready.”
Miles, who has worked closely with Melangton since the bid was won, says Allison has the perfect balance of left and right brains.
“She is analytical and creative. She is extraordinarily organized, and, at the same time, has great people skills,” he says. “Those are rare combinations to see together.”
One example of that is the Super Scarves program, born on a Friday after a particularly frustrating week for Melangton. She had fielded dozens of phone calls from people wanting to donate their time to the Super Bowl effort, and each time she had to turn them down.
“I’d say, ‘I’m just not quite organized enough; I’m not quite ready for you,’” she recalls.
She wanted to harvest their energy and passion in some way. A brainstorming session led to the creation of Super Scarves. Volunteers from 46 states and four countries have produced more than 13,000 blue-and-white scarves, far surpassing the 8,000-scarf goal.
Miles admits he initially thought the idea was “preposterous.”
“It seemed far-fetched,” he says.
But it was vintage Melangton.
“For Allison, it’s a good illustration of her intuition, insight, persistence and good judgment,” he says. “It exceeded everybody’s expectations.”
Melangton’s goal for Super Bowl visitors is that they see the amenities Indy has to offer in terms of visiting, living and working.
“In many cases, you have to come here to know the benefits,” she says, pointing out that this was exactly her situation when she left Colorado. “I drank the Kool-Aid,” she adds with a laugh. “I’m all there.”
What will make the Super Bowl successful, she says, is the experience of those visitors, the thousands of volunteers and Indiana residents.
“If our community thinks it’s great and wants another one, that’s a great experience in my mind. I guess it’s about how everybody else feels,” she adds with a smile.
Knapp, who has known Allison for more than 25 years with USA Gymnastics and ISC, says Melangton is one of her biggest “success stories.” In the nonprofit world where the work can be long and hard, Melangton’s work ethic and enthusiasm made her stand out.
“She’s magical,” Knapp says. “She’s fabulous. I am so excited to see what she has grown into.”
Knapp points out that not only is she proud of Melangton’s myriad accomplishments, she’s equally proud of how she has reached them.
“Over the time she’s lived in Indianapolis, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that would have a negative thing to say about her,” Knapp says.
The game and beyond
When Feb. 5 rolls around, fans around the world will gather around TVs with snacks and drinks. But what Melangton will do that day depends on how well prepared the host committee is.
“If everything is nice and smooth, I’m going to the game. If we’ve got some holes we’re trying to fill or a major weather event that day, I’m sure I won’t be at the game.”
After the Super Bowl crowds have left and Indy is back to normal, Melangton’s busy life will continue. She’ll remain with the host committee until June 1 to pay bills and wrap up everything. Shortly after her son Cameron graduates from Carmel High School in May, she’ll head to London to again work for NBC at the Summer Olympics.
When asked what she likes to do in her spare time, Melangton quickly answers that she doesn’t have any. But regardless the events of her day, spending time with Tom and Cameron is at the top of her to-do list.
“I make sure that, no matter what, I spend time reconnecting with them and talking about their day,” she says.
Planning Indy’s biggest event ever has been an honor.
“I take very seriously the legacy of the folks that started the sports movement here,” she says. “I want to do a great job because they started a great thing.
“I feel like Indianapolis does things that no other city can do because our community can pull together. To be a part of that is very special.”
An Idea Takes Flight
During her time planning Super Bowl XLVI, Melangton has had her share of successes. But one that stands out above the rest is the day the Host Committee’s 2012 bid was delivered to 32 NFL team owners.
“We were trying to think of a creative way to deliver the bid that also made a statement about Indianapolis,” she says.
In a meeting with Jack Swarbrick and Mark Miles, it was suggested that what’s important to the city is its youth and their future. One idea was to fly 32 eighth-grade students –– who would be high school seniors in 2012 –– to each of the NFL cities to hand-deliver the bids.
“My mind instantly started going into logistics,” Melangton recalls. “I’ve got to get 32 airline tickets, find 32 kids and get 32 parents convinced that it’s OK to fly their eighth-grader across the country with a chaperone.
“I had an eighth-grader at the time, so I was really relating to the conversation.
“I started doing the ‘but, but, but.’ Jack looked at me –– I’ll never forget it –– and said, ‘Don’t ever let logistics get in the way of a good idea. We’ll find people here to help us do this, and we’ll get it done.’ He was exactly right.”
Amid the chaos of finalizing the bid, it was just what she needed to hear.
After choosing 32 students based on academics and citizenship, the day came to deliver the bids.
“It was one of the best days I’ve ever had in my life,” Melangton says. Half the kids had never been on a plane, she adds. At the airport, their departures, bid deliveries and arrivals back in Indy were tracked on a giant board designed like a football field. Each student’s helmet was moved along the “field” until they crossed the goal line, i.e., returned home.
Most of the trips were completed in one day. Some, like those to Seattle and San Diego, required an overnight stay.
What once seemed unlikely turned out to be a triumphant hit.
“It was a great day,” Melangton says.