The September 2021 Blue Goose Five Questions feature, with Mel Gaines (Assistant to the Vice President, 2008)
Mel Raines is another BCAer whose post-Administration career has been filled with adventure while also benefiting her community. The experience she gained working on multiple RNC conventions and on Vice President Cheney’s staff has served her well in the world of sports and entertainment. After helping lead Indianapolis’ successful hosting of Super Bowl XLVI, she joined Indiana Pacers Sports & Entertainment, where among other duties, she oversees Gainbridge Fieldhouse, home of the NBA Pacers and WNBA Indiana Fever.
Q: Can you tell us about your role with Pacers Sports & Entertainment (PS&E) and what you are working on as the new season approaches?
I’m in my seventh season with the Indiana Pacers now and it’s hard to believe how quickly it’s gone by. I must have the longest title in the NBA – Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications, Community Engagement and Facility Operations, as well as President of the 2024 NBA All-Star Host Committee. In addition to overseeing all of our corporate communications and community engagement activities, I lead the team that runs Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the St. Vincent Center Practice Facility and another office building we own for staff, as well as overseeing our three-year, three-phase, $360 million renovation of the fieldhouse. The facility operations part of my position includes everything from booking shows, security, housekeeping and food and beverage to merchandise and the box office. Gainbridge Fieldhouse is the best place in the league to watch an NBA game and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. Thankfully, our renovations will be completed well in advance of our hosting the 2024 NBA All-Star weekend.
Q: You are one of just a handful of women who run major sports facilities. This year the Sports Business Journal is recognizing you on its list of “Game Changers.” Do you consider yourself a pioneer?
I didn’t know going into this job that there were so few women running arenas and stadiums. We have a really tight knit group of women who do this, and I consider two of the women who have been at it the longest to be the real pioneers. I simply want to be the best at what I do regardless of my gender. I strive to run the safest, nicest, cleanest, most guest-friendly arena in the NBA and I happen to be a woman. Hopefully we will motivate more women to go into this field so in another decade it won’t be a big deal.
Q: Prior to PS&E, you led event operations for the Super Bowl XLVI Host Committee in Indianapolis. What was that experience like and how did you make the pivot from public service and politics to sports and entertainment?
That Super Bowl was a fantastic experience for so many reasons, not the least of which was being a Hoosier with home state pride. When I applied for the position in 2009, what stood out to the hiring committee was my experience of having worked on four Republican Conventions with an NSSE security designation. Indy had never hosted an event that required coordination between federal and state law enforcement at such a high level and I had done that before. I worked on the 2012 Super Bowl for almost 3 years (and subsequently on another seven Super Bowls) and to this day people still tell me it was the best Super Bowl they worked at or attended as a fan. We had the warmest weather in the last 100 years that week, so luck played a part in it, but mostly it was hard work and an absolute community commitment to rolling out the red carpet for everyone coming and maximizing the kind of opportunity we don’t get that often in a cold weather city.
Q: How did your experiences at the RNC, on the Hill and on Vice President Cheney’s staff prepare you for your work today and what leadership lessons from your time at the White House have most influenced your own leadership style?
I would definitely not have the position I have today if not for those experiences. Politics and government affairs work prepared me to be able to react quickly to change, which happens so much in the live event industry and especially in the last year with a construction project during COVID-19. In addition, it taught me poise in stressful situations and the VP’s office on my resume is the number one thing that stands out and everyone wants to know more about. Working for the Simon family, which owns our team, is very similar to working with an elected official. They are a family, so that has been really familiar to me from the day I started and I don’t think happens in other industries. I always thought Vice President Cheney was the best listener I ever worked for, asked the most insightful questions and never lost his temper with me and I definitely have tried to take those lessons with me.
Q: Can you leave us with a favorite story or special moment from your time at the White House?
I once had the opportunity in a meeting to hear Vice President Cheney recount in detail his day on September 11th. I lived and worked in New York City on September 11th before I joined his staff, and it was the hardest and worst day of my life. To hear him tell about that day in his own words is something I will never forget and I thought about it several times leading up to the recent 20th anniversary. The opportunity to work for Vice President Cheney with amazing colleagues and friends, to get to know the Cheney family and go to work every day in the White House is still something I cherish.