Mel Raines, senior vice president of facilities operations for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, and her senior team at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Steady Hand on the Wheel
From political conventions to Pacers Sports & Entertainment, Mel Raines is a pro’s pro
Michele “Mel” Raines knows how to go the extra mile, even when that means closing the road.
As the senior vice president of facilities operations for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, Raines was instrumental in the bid that her organization made in 2017 to bring the 2021 NBA All-Star Game to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“Instead of just FedExing it to New York City to the league office, (Pacers Sports & Entertainment Chief Operating Officer) Rick Fuson came up with the idea to get in an Indy car and drive it down Fifth Avenue and deliver it to Commissioner Adam Silver with Larry Bird (at the time the Pacers’ president of basketball operations) driving it,” she said. “I figured out how to close six blocks of Fifth Avenue.”
She worked with the city’s Police Department to close one lane of traffic. The Indy car arrived wrapped in NBA 2021 All-Star decals, which Raines was able to pull off thanks to her network of friends and colleagues at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Winning the bid was one of Raines’ biggest accomplishments since joining PS&E four years ago. Her next big one on the horizon: a coming $360 million renovation to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home to the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever..
“She’s done an incredible job in her role. I hope more cities are willing to hire women in these roles when they have opportunities,” said Allison Melangton, senior vice president of events at Hulman Motorsports, owner of the speedway.
As president and CEO of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee in Indianapolis, Melangton said, “I had a couple of people call me and say you should look at this young woman.” Raines was working in Washington D.C., doing political consulting at lobbying firm Navigators Global with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary. She loved that Raines had worked on several political conventions, including logistics, operations, security, parking and venue management.
“The only larger event than the Super Bowl to run in the U.S. is a political convention,” Melangton said.
“She came in and knocked (the committee’s) socks off,” Melangton said. “It took 2 minutes and I said, ‘That’s the person we need to deliver a great Super Bowl.’”
They hired Raines immediately, and she and Melangton quickly became known as powerful women in the venue industry who not only get the job done but exceed expectations, Melangton said.
Before working on the venue side, Raines was a client. She has worked on six Republican National Conventions, organizing every aspect of how the conventions ran at any given venue. “I’m able to sit in my chair now and understand people on the other side,” Raines said.
She started her position at the Pacers in 2015, and instead of using her vacation time in 2016 to travel or relax, she chose to go to Cleveland and work as a consultant on the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Those experiences gave her skills that others in the venue industry lack, Melangton said.
“The number of high-profile positions for women in sports the last 20 years has dramatically increased. I think that’s a great statement for younger women to believe there can be careers in sports,” Melangton said. “When I was the CEO of the 2012 Super Bowl Committee, I was only the second woman in 46 Super Bowls to hold that title. Since then, there have been three other women who have held that position.”
Raines is only the third woman to hold a senior vice president title for an NBA arena. “Now we added a fourth and a fifth,” Raines said.
Her career highlights also include being the assistant of political affairs for Dick Cheney from 2006 to ’07. “It was one of the great honors of my life to work in the White House. You’re in awe every day that you work there,” she said.
After President Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, she continued political consulting, but was eyeing positions in Indianapolis, hoping to go back to the state. She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in telecommunications.
“I knew that Indianapolis had won the Super Bowl bid. I applied online with 150 other people,” Raines said. She opted not to call her connections in Indianapolis to recommend her for the job, wanting to see if her resume would shine on its own — and it did. That’s when her friendship and professional relationship with Melangton began.
“I’ve also worked on six Super Bowls since we hosted it,” Raines said.
When her current position opened up with the Pacers, Fuson, her boss, thought it was a no-brainer to hire her.
“I think she’s as good as there is. I’ve been with the Pacers for 35 years and ran the arena for over 30 years. When I decided I was going to look for someone to run the arena, she was on the top of the list,” Fuson said. “She had the strong event background and strong management background. She’s had a lovely career and has a personality that we knew would be a positive thing going for us in the future.”
Fuson also recognizes the lack of women in leadership roles throughout the sports and arena business.
“There are not many women in our industry who run arenas like she does,” he said. “I think it’s important for women to know that there are still industries that need to be broken into and this is one of them.”
In addition to hosting the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, Raines will lead Bankers Life Fieldhouse through a $360 million renovation starting after the 2020 season.
The state will pay for roughly $270 million of the renovations and Pacers Sports & Entertainment will fund $65 million. The city will contribute $25 million. The deal also ensures the Pacers will remain in Indianapolis for 25 years.
The renovations will be done in three phases, with projections that the final phase will be completed by October 2022. Upgrades include redoing the interior of the facility from Feb. 1 to Oct. 1, 2020, in phase one. The next phase includes expanding the pavilion into an outdoor plaza with an ice skating rink, along with more interior renovations starting Dec. 31 2021. The last phase will complete the expansion and give the entire arena an exterior face-lift.
Indoor renovations include upgrading all concessions, suites, seating and technology. The seven rows of balcony space will be knocked out and expanded into standing area for guests. They’ll add new suites and renovate the old ones. “There’s not much of the building that won’t be touched,” Raines said.
Raines works hard, but she also enjoys downtime with family when she can. “I am not married, which makes it easy to move around as much as I have,” she said, but her sister has five children between the ages of 5 and 15. “They come down to Indianapolis quite a bit to see things we host.”
On a personal level, Raines is a great person to have as a friend, Melangton said.
“Mel is very witty and very funny. There is no one more fun to go have a beer with,” she said.
She’s also thoughtful of others and a compassionate person. “So she is just a really incredible person. She a great friend and a great role model for young women,” Melangton said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been revised since it was originally posted.