Allison Melangton: Carmel’s Own Indiana Living Legend

Writer / Janelle Morrison Photographer / JJ Kaplan

If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to become a living legend, you may want to take a few notes from this incredible lady and add Super Bowl Committee Chair, Olympics Sports producer, president and versatile “all star” to your bucket list. This past July, Allison Melangton, a Carmel resident, was honored with this title, along with four other notable individuals, at the annual Indiana Living Legends Gala.

The Indiana Historical Society (IHS) names extraordinary Hoosiers who have demonstrated their statewide and national accomplishments with the Living Legends award. When she’s not accepting Living Legend or Emmy awards for her work with NBC Sports, or sitting as president of Indiana Sports Corporation, Allison is the devoted wife to her husband of 28 years, Tom, and mother to her son Cameron, a student at Ball State University.

Most recognized for her role with the bid efforts to host the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Allison and the Indiana Sports Corporation (ISC) staff are responsible for a litany of major sports events that take place throughout Indiana. Serving ISC in different roles and capacities, Allison has been with the sports organization since 1994. The ISC was the first sports corporation in the country, established by Sandy Knapp in 1979. Today there are over 500 organizations, coast to coast.

Allison has directed numerous national and international events, including Olympic Trials, Big Ten Basketball Tournaments, NCAA Women’s Final Fours and World Championships. She has served as CEO and president of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee that brought Super Bowl XLVI to Indianapolis and chaired the 2018 Super Bowl Bid Committee, with that bid ultimately lost to Minneapolis.

Allison has been the Associate Producer for the gymnastics broadcast by NBC Sports for the last five of the eight Olympic games. She has received five Emmy Awards for her work that includes the recent 2012 summer games in London. While all of these accomplishments are irrefutably incredible, it was Allison’s display of “grace under fire” while preparing for the 2018 Super Bowl Bid that sets her apart from the ordinary. Her husband had fallen suddenly ill and was rushed to the emergency room, on more than one occasion, suffering multiple cardiac arrests. He was suffering from electrical issues with his heart, and Tom became so in tune with the irregular rhythms to the point that he was alerting the medical staff just seconds before becoming unconscious and going into another arrest. “As a spouse, it was horrific to watch,” Allison recalled. She was also being monitored for an elevated heart rate, leading them to suspect that both she and Tom may have suffered a virus of some sort.

She was convinced Tom had accepted that he was not going to make it. A higher power had other plans for Tom and Allison, and after a successful placement of a permanent defibrillator, Tom has been gaining strength and energy in strides since the first incident took place. With life happening, the show still had to go on, and Allison attributes the success of completing the bid and presentation to the supportive board and staff that surrounded her during this time of crisis. Allison demonstrated the purest definition of what a devoted spouse, mother, president and leader means and is an inspiration to all working spouses and parents. Clearly, family is the foundation to all of her successes.

A Hoosier transplant, Allison was born in Maine and raised in an active sports family. At age 17 she moved to Colorado to attend college and perform in gymnastics. She graduated from Colorado State University with a BA in Sports Administration. After graduation, she went to work for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs. During this time period and under the administration of Mayor William Hudnut, Indianapolis was incorporating the sports tourism strategy, and individuals like Sandy Knapp, Jim Morris and Ted Boehm were organizing the city of Indianapolis to move sports organizations to Indiana. By August of 1983, six to seven sports organizations were relocating to Indianapolis. Headhunters went to Colorado Springs to interview young professionals employed by the U.S. Olympic Committee to see if any of them would be interested in moving to Indiana to assist in getting the sports scene established here.

The USA Gymnastics Team was moving from Texas to Indiana, and Allison grabbed the opportunity to work with her favorite sport. “They hired me and I moved to Indiana, having never been to Indiana,” Allison recalled. “This was now my second ‘sight unseen’ move. I showed up in Indianapolis on August 30, 1983, employed by USA Gymnastics. I worked there for 11 years and left as their Assistant Executive Director. I ran all of their national and international competitions for gymnastics and then I took a job with the Indiana Sports Corporation in 1994.” Allison reflected back on her remarkable journey in the sports production industry.

“I’ve been very blessed in having worked eight Olympic games, and I am getting ready to work my ninth in Rio de Janeiro,” she said. ‘NBC Sports’ asked me to contract with them so when I first went to work, at ISC, that was part of my deal. NBC wanted me to associate produce the competitions they show on “NBC Sports.” It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun because it is a sport I love.” Allison was back in the producer’s chair in August for the televising of the US Nationals in gymnastics.

As CEO and president of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, Allison and her fellow committee members invested hundreds of hours into the bid process from cradle to grave. She dubbed the process “all consuming.”

“It is a remarkable amount of work,” she explained. “The National Football League (NFL) sends you an RFP that is a few hundred pages long. You have to dissect that and prepare your submittal based upon that information. We received the RFP in October, and it was due the first part of that following April.” After hundreds of meetings and collaborative strategy sessions, Allison and the committee had prepared their response and a presentation for 32 NFL team owners and their respective entourages.

It took approximately 75 people with backgrounds from ISC staff, with expertise in different parts of putting these bids together, to individuals representing all of the key stakeholders such as the airport, city, state, Lucas Oil Stadium and the Colts, to put the bid together.

Allison’s description of the actual bid presentation makes a corporation’s annual shareholders’ meeting look like a cakewalk. “I had the best partner in the world: Jeff Saturday,” Allison said. “There are strict rules about the presentation, and after spending eight months on it, you only get 15 minutes to deliver it. Only two people can present in front of the team owners, and it can’t be any political dignitaries or celebrities unless they are directly associated with your bid. Jeff and I presented together, and he was just remarkable. We rehearsed a lot. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that nervous going in because we were very prepared and felt comfortable with what we were presenting. I felt that I had a great team of people and the right folks with me.”

During Indianapolis’ first bid process, Allison did not present but instead Fred Glass, Vice President and Director of Athletics for Indiana University and Tony Dungy, former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach, had the honors.

“They did a fantastic job, and it was a great learning experience for me in 2007,” Allison recalled. Before Tony walked in to present that first year, he was feverishly pacing. “I asked him why he was pacing and if he was alright. He replied, ‘I’m really nervous.’ I looked at him and said, ‘You just won the Super Bowl—how can you be nervous?’ He looked at me and explained that these weren’t his ‘peeps.’ ‘I’m a coach,’ Tony said. ‘I speak to the players. This owner thing is making me a little nervous.’ He really did a great job and he came with us to the next presentation to be supportive. He was a huge help.” Allison paused. “He is an incredible man,” she said thoughtfully.

In this last bid presentation, Indianapolis went last after New Orleans and Minneapolis. Before Jeff and Allison walked in, they each took a deep breath and Jeff grabbed Allison’s hand and squeezed it. It was do or die.

“We weren’t allowed to hear the other presentations but via social media, we followed the posts and tweets, allowing us to make minor tweaks leading up to the very minute that we walked through the door. Social media made the process so different from 2008. For example, when you were done presenting, they put you back in your holding room, and Roger Goodall would come in and personally tell you if you had won the bid or not. This time, the NFL Network was allowed to be in our holding room, waiting with us. We made sure we were following all of the right people on the various social media channels to stay abreast of what was going on, rather than just sitting in the holding room waiting and listening to our watches tick.”

The NFL Network had their cameras fixed strategically on the faces of the committee members and support personnel when the vote was finally announced, conveniently on the NFL Network channel. Out of consideration for the Indiana media corps who had traveled with the committee to cover the story, Allison had asked the NFL the day before if they would be allowed in their holding room along with the NFL Network crew. Fair being fair, she was granted permission to allow Indy’s press to watch along for the final vote. After a disappointing loss to Minneapolis, Allison and Jeff regrouped and addressed the media with dignity and a tremendous sense of pride.

“We did everything we could to get the bid,” Allison reflected positively. “We had a great presentation, the best financial package and an excellent RFP submission. We wanted to make sure we had no regrets. I wanted to be able to look at Governor Pence, Mayor Ballard and everyone else who worked on it and say we did everything we could to get it. I have no regrets.”

Allison concluded, “In the end, people make the difference with everything. The volunteers, businesses and all of the things that come together made the Super Bowl and what I do every day possible. People here put the community, the state and the city first and their own agendas second. That is why we can get everything done that we set out to achieve.”

On the sidelines with Allison

Will you go for a fourth bid?
“We will evaluate that opportunity at some point. The NFL will not give the Midwest two back-to-back Super Bowls. There has to be some time in between them. We’ll keep watch for the right time to strike again. You only want to bid when you think you can win. There’s a lot of time, energy and strategy involved in the whole process.”

What other events is ISC working on?
“We just confirmed a deal with the Big
Ten to bring 14 more events to Indianapolis through 2021. That is a big deal for us. The Big Ten is an important partner. We’ve got six more football championships, so we’ll have the first 11 Big Ten Football Championships, which is excellent for Indianapolis. We’re getting ready to host the Men’s Final Four, the first week of April 2015. We’re heavy into planning for that right now.”

What are the benefits to hosting these big events/tournaments in Indiana?
“I think everyone looks at ISC as a tourism arm, but we really serve both tourism and the residents. When you break down who attends the events, a lot of them are residents. We look at ourselves as a tourism driver but also as something that enhances the quality of life here. We provide volunteer opportunities for people who want to get involved, and we do a lot of community programming like “Geared for Health,” where we distribute sporting goods equipment all over the state to groups who need it.”

After losing the last bid, do you feel like your efforts and time spent were in vain?
“I don’t feel that way at all. Any process that brings together a community from the statehouse, our city government, the Capital Improvement Board and all of the venues and brings collaboration and problem solving is healthy, whether you win or lose.”

How do you keep the edge when competing with other states?
“I am a very competitive person. It’s a quiet competitiveness but I don’t like losing. I am proud of how we do things here and I don’t want anybody to outshine us. I know we have the best people here, statewide, to do amazing things.”

Every year, the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) recognizes Hoosiers for their contributions in Indiana and nationwide at our Living Legends Gala. Here are just a few notable past IHS Living Legends recipients:
Bill Polian
Bobby “Slick” Leonard
Christel DeHaan
Judy O’Bannon
Robert Indiana
Jim Davis
Scott Jones
David Letterman
Ruth Lilly
Sen. Richard Lugar
John Mellencamp
Kurt Vonnegut
David Wolf
Melvin and Herbert Simon