Raycom Sports was founded in July, 1979, and is one of the most widely recognized names in sports television. However, its rise to prominence is really a success story of American entrepreneurism.
In 1979, televised college sports was confined to a Saturday football game on ABC, weekend basketball games on NBC and some regionally televised conference basketball packages. The most notable being C.D. Chesley’s production of Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) games on a syndicated network of east coast television stations. ESPN, established in September 1979, was new and satellite transmission for cable network programs was in its infancy.
Also in 1979, Rick Ray, a 30 year-old television program manager with WCCB-TV in Charlotte, NC decided that there was more interest in college basketball on television than was being provided by the networks or local television stations. When WCCB disagreed with his concept for producing more basketball games, Ray left the station.
He and his partner, Dee Birke who owned and operated an advertising agency, traveled to Alaska to produce the Sea Wolf Classic, a tournament Ray later renamed the Great Alaska Shootout. Thus began a career of buying rights to games, and producing, syndicating and selling commercials to cover expenses. The company was named Raycom, short for Ray Communications.
After the success of their first project, Ray and Birke embarked on a mission to acquire the television rights to the prestigious ACC. In 1980, Raycom obtained the local television rights to the two largest universities within the ACC region, but not a part of the conference: Virginia Tech and the University of South Carolina.
The Raycom success with those universities and selected games from other local schools, most notably the University of North Carolina, provided the experience and expertise necessary for the company to bid for the rights to the ACC. In 1981, a year after the C.D. Chesley Company announced it was discontinuing the television production business, Raycom Sports and Jefferson-Pilot Sports formed a joint venture, Raycom/JP, and acquired the full rights to ACC men’s basketball. R/JP also launched ACC Sports Center, which aired before each regional telecast.
Rick Ray and Dee Birke were married in 1981 and the family business was born. Dee’s sister, Ann Kent was the first employee, and before the start of their first ACC telecast season, the company hired Ken Haines. As executive to the president at Virginia Tech and the University’s key public affairs spokesperson, Haines brought university experience and insight into the young company.
The first Raycom ACC Conference telecast featured Virginia at Duke on Wednesday, December 8, 1982 at 9pm. The announcers were Fred White and Billy Packer. The sponsors on that first ACC/Raycom telecast included Piedmont Airlines, Belk-Leggett Stores, Budweiser/Natural Light, Chrysler, NCNB, Mazda, Holiday Inn, Hardees and Jefferson Pilot Life Insurance. The second year included sponsors such as Food Lion and Pepsi that still remain as active ACC Corporate Partners. In just two short years, Raycom had become a major force in college sports television.
In 1983, Don McGuire, a senior producer from NBC Sports, was hired and a year later, Wayne Spransy, a Charlotte CPA, was brought into the company. For the next five years, the company flourished with Rick Ray acquiring new products, Dee Ray selling advertising, McGuire producing games, Spransy handling finances, and Haines scheduling games and managing operations.
All syndicated Raycom/JP games were distributed to stations over landlines leased from AT&T. Stations released their telco lines that received ABC, CBS and NBC programming to be able to obtain the ACC games. After the games, the lines were returned to the stations so they could receive their network programming.
The 1982-83 season found Raycom/JP and ESPN launching a pay cable network of ACC basketball games titled “Season Ticket”. While the project failed, because of distribution problems, it was the forerunner of the first pay cable package of more than just a single event.
The Raycom syndication model for televised college sports events was different from traditional syndication techniques and it helped distinguish the company from its competitors.
From the start, Raycom had a unique business model. Instead of sharing equally advertising inventory with television stations, the company paid monetary compensation to each station in exchange for controlling almost all of the advertising minutes in each telecast. In that manner, advertisers could not have their messages in a Raycom game unless they purchased the time from Raycom. While risky, the strategy paid off as Raycom was able to generate more revenue by controlling almost all of the advertising.
Another unusual business technique was pioneered when Raycom established a central monitoring system within the company headquarters. Employees documented each commercial and the time it was aired. They also communicated with each station’s control room during the game to ensure that the game was being telecast completely with all commercials airing. The following day, advertisers would know the exact number of commercials and the markets in which they had aired during a respective game. This facilitated billing, and gave advertisers assurances that they were not accustomed to receiving.
Raycom pioneered a customized “traffic” system that placed commercials into program and production logs that guaranteed advertisers separation from competitive commercials and assured that the commercial was aired in a different game location in each telecast. The system handled hundreds of games each season and as many as 14 games on a single weekend. Under the supervision of long-term employees Scott Crowder, Marilyn Haley and Deanna Rothgeb, this system became a model for other sports syndication companies.
The growth of Raycom was based on the philosophy that local teams playing on local television stations would generate larger audiences than other “out of market” teams. The plan was to establish several regional networks, each televising local interest games. Once established, regional advertisers could show their commercials to just their own region, a group of regions, or a national advertiser could purchase all the regions at one time. The result would be higher ratings for both the regional and national advertiser.
In June, 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that college football television was no longer within the exclusive domain of the NCAA which had resulted in many games being televised exclusively on ABC. Immediately, Raycom reached an agreement with the Southwest Conference to televise an exclusive regional package of football games (1984-1995). Two years later, Raycom also acquired exclusive rights to regional football games of the Big Eight Conference (1985-1993).
By 1988, fewer than ten years after the company was founded, Raycom was producing more than 500 events a year and was the dominant regional television sports network for college basketball and football. In addition to the ACC, Southwest and Big Eight, the company held the television rights to the Big Ten (1989-1995), Pac-10 (1987-1995), PCAA (1985-1987) and Metro Conference (1985-1995). Pre-season football games, such as the Kickoff Classic (1985-1992) and later the Disneyland Pigskin Classic (1990-1994), were also televised by Raycom.
In addition to broadcasting games, Raycom also secured title sponsorships to both the Goodyear Pac-10 Basketball Tournament (1988, 1989) and the Phillips 66 Big 8 Basketball Tournament (1988-present). Now known as the Phillips 66 Big 12 Basketball Tournament, this is currently the longest-running title sponsorship of any sporting event.
Statewide radio networks were established by Raycom for Purdue University and the University of Illinois from 1988 through 1990. Raycom had experience in operating radio networks when the company managed the Virginia Tech radio network from 1981-1983.
From a handful of employees in 1983, Raycom grew within six years to more than 80 and opened offices in New York, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and Ft. Lauderdale. Many well-known sports commentators received their start or worked on Raycom telecasts, including Cory Alexander, Dan Bonner, James Brown, Dave Barnett, Tim Brando, Tim Brant, Jimmy Dykes, Larry Farmer, Ron Franklin, Terry Gannon, Mike Gminski, Merle Harmon, Bud Wilkinson, Craig James, Steve Martin, Billy Packer, Bill Raftery, Bob Rathbun, Dave Rowe, Roger Twibell, Dick Vermeil, Dick Vitale, Bill Walton, Jim Valvano, Jay Bilas and Mike Patrick.
During this period of accelerated growth, Haines traveled extensively to colleges and conference offices arranging schedules and negotiating contracts with local television stations to carry games. A veteran station programmer, Jim Duncan, was hired in 1985 to assist Haines. Jim retired 13 years later. Pat LaPlatney was hired in 1989 from the Blair television rep firm, and later was named head of Raycom programming and distribution.
In addition to sports programming, the company tried, with only limited success, to produce and syndicate entertainment programs domestically and internationally. Haines and LaPlatney made several trips to Europe, including Cannes, to try and place programming in the international marketplace.
Sports revenue grew to over $60 million per year, due in measure to the 1988 hiring of Ray Warren, a former VP of sales at ABC. Spransy, who was hired in 1984, managed the sprawling financial assets of the company, a responsibility later assumed by Raycom controller Rick Fujita, hired in 1990 from American Television & Communications Corp. (ATC). Production of events was elevated to a level commensurate with network quality. In 1987, McGuire left to become head of sports production at Turner Broadcasting and another NBC veteran producer, Peter Rolfe, was hired at Raycom.
The cornerstone of Raycom programming has always been ACC basketball. In its early history, ESPN relied heavily on the Raycom/JP package of ACC games to help it gain viewers. As cable became more popular during the 80′s, and ESPN became the national sports cable network, Raycom began supplying more of its basketball games to ESPN.
New to broadcasting was the practice of “blacking out” regions of the country from a telecast. However, since its inception ESPN has aired ACC games but blacked out the ACC region when the game was also being telecast on the Raycom/JP Network.
The ACC games were so popular within the ACC region, that many telecasts had ratings in the 20′s and 30′s. The Virginia/UNC basketball game, featuring Michael Jordan and Ralph Sampson, did a 36 rating in Greensboro on February 10, 1983 and a 35 rating in Raleigh. The UNC/Georgia Tech game on February 4, 1986 did a 30 rating in Charlotte and a 31 rating in Raleigh. The UNC/Duke matchup always does high ratings including a 33 rating in Raleigh for the February 3, 1994 game and a 32 rating in Raleigh on February 1, 2001 and again on February 9, 2005.
Frequently, stations would pre-empt the most popular network entertainment programs, since the ACC games would attract larger audiences. One of the most notable pre-emptions occurred on February 4, 1986 when nationally ranked and number 1, UNC, played number 2 ranked Georgia Tech. The game was so popular that almost every Raycom station from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta chose to pre-empt President Regan’s State of the Union address that night to carry the game. Those stations ran the President’s address on tape delay following the game.
A forerunner to larger college conferences occurred in 1990 when Haines and Raycom’s Director of Programming Chuck Steedman concluded a study for the establishment of a college “super conference” that resulted in a major addition in membership to some college conferences and prompted a realignment of the Metro Conference into Conference USA. The research gained national attention and began a series of studies at almost all college conferences on the benefits and liabilities of expansion.
By 1992, the CBS television network was rapidly becoming the only major over-the-air network broadcasting a significant number of college basketball games. NBC had dramatically reduced its schedule, and ABC had decided to exit the college basketball business. It was at this point that Raycom and ABC formed a unique business relationship whereby Raycom purchased all the available broadcast time for college basketball from ABC and programmed Raycom games on the ABC network. The block purchase of time was regarded as the largest ever to occur on a major network by an outside company. The arrangement proved so successful that during the 1995 season, the Raycom/ABC package of games generated higher ratings than the long-established CBS package.
Raycom pioneered many other ventures in sports television, including the attempt in 1989 to stage the first major U.S. college football game in the Soviet Union, the Glasnost Bowl. Raycom secured the rights to match Southern Cal against the University of Illinois in a regular season game in Moscow. Arrangements were made for a network telecast back to the United States and planes were chartered for fans to fly to Russia. Despite Haines and others spending weeks in Moscow, the Soviets were unable to supply the needed hotel rooms and the game was rescheduled for Los Angeles.
Raycom used the experience to build a reputation for staging major sports events. The Blockbuster Bowl 1990-1993), conceived by Raycom’s Richard Giannini and later managed by Brian Flajole, a former University of Washington athletic department employee, was staged for 11 years from 1990 through 2000 in Joe Robbie Stadium, later renamed Pro Player Stadium. Retitled the Carquest Bowl (1994-1997) and then the Micronpc.com Bowl (1998-2000), the game became a major bowl on CBS and later on TBS. The 1993 game was memorable in that Penn State’s Joe Paterno agreed to play in the game before the season had even started if the Nittany Lions qualified for a bowl. At that time, Penn State was not in the Big Ten and had no guaranteed bowl berth. The first game in 1990 was also memorable in that it pitted FSU’s Bobby Bowden against Paterno. Two of the winningest coaches in college football.
With the 1996 opening of the Carolina Panthers Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, Raycom staged the first college football game in the new stadium. It pitted North Carolina State University and East Carolina University in a sold out 73,367-seat stadium. That was followed by games between the University of North Carolina and NC State in 1998 and 1999, and a second NC State vs. ECU game in 2004. In 2006, Raycom staged the Clemson vs. Temple football game, and managed the Virginia Tech vs. ECU game in 2008 and ECU vs. South Carolina game in 2011. Raycom will manage the ECU vs. USC rematch in Charlotte in 2014.
In 2002, Haines had a vision and plan for Raycom Sports to begin a new bowl game in Charlotte, the Continental Tire Bowl. The game was scheduled to be sanctioned by the NCAA on September 11, 2001. Haines had flown to Philadelphia that morning to meet with the NCAA, but minutes before the meeting was to begin, the attack on the World Trade Center occurred and it was seven months later before the game was officially certified.
The game, featuring teams from the ACC and the Big East, was an unparalleled success. A sellout crowd of 73,535 witnessed the #2 teams in the ACC and Big East renew a border war as Virginia defeated West Virginia. An uptown pep rally staged the night before the game brought an estimated 40,000 fans to the Trade & Tryon intersection in Charlotte. The Continental Tire Bowl also rated as the second-most viewed program on ESPN2 in 2002. The game was so successful, it established a new Bank of America Stadium attendance record and was the second-most successful first-year bowl game in history, ranking only behind Raycom’s inaugural 1990 Blockbuster Bowl between Penn State and Florida State.
The bowl was named one of the five best start-ups in sports over the past five years by the Sports Business Journal, behind the NFL Houston Texans and ESPN the Magazine. It has been sold out two of the first three years. Haines turned the Executive Director role over to Will Webb, a longtime successful Charlotte businessman. In January 2005, a new title sponsor was signed and the game was renamed the Meineke Car Care Bowl. And in 2011, the game was renamed the Belk Bowl.
The game has featured such teams as North Carolina, Boston College, Wake Forest, Virginia, Pittsburgh, NC State, West Virginia, Connecticut, South Florida and the United States Naval Academy.
Raycom also played a major role in Charlotte being awarded the bid for the ACC Football Championship Game in 2010 and 2011. The championship game and the bowl game are currently owned by a non-profit entity, with Raycom involved in operational aspects of both games.
The Diet Pepsi Tournament of Champions, later titled by Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Hardee’s, became one of the premier pre-season basketball tournaments. Terry Hanson, a former Turner Sports and PGA Tour executive, was hired in 1991 to oversee the Raycom events division, which included the Blockbuster Bowl and the basketball tournament. The Charlotte tournament was staged for 14 consecutive years, from 1988 through 2001, the last few years under the supervision of long-term employee, George Johnson, who had been hired in 1992 in the programming and event division.
The concept of matching the previous season’s top eight basketball teams became reality with the 1994 establishment of the very successful DIRECTV Great Eight. The Detroit, and later, Chicago event was staged by Raycom and ESPN. The Great Eight enjoyed a successful run from 1994-1999 before the NCAA chose to eliminate tournament exemptions, thus forcing the end of the event. The BB&T Basketball Children’s Classic in Washington, DC and hosted by Maryland and George Washington, was marketed and telecast by Raycom since its inception in 1995 through 2004. These types of events provided the company with the ability to integrate event marketing and television exposure.
In addition, Raycom produced a number of videos including a series on the ACC, North Carolina and Duke basketball programs, and highlights of football bowl games produced by the company. A special Elvis Presley video was released in 1993, and a video of NBA star Muggsy Bogues was released in 1995.
Since 1994, Raycom, in conjunction with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), have staged a unique party experience at the site of every NCAA Final Four. The popular gatherings, planned by Raycom’s Lisa Anderson Wilson and then by Linda Parker MacKenzie, have been held at such unusual locations as a pirate ship in Tampa, a historic southern mansion in Charlotte, a racetrack in New Jersey, the State House and a 1920′s big band ballroom in Indianapolis, a remodeled train station in San Antonio, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Underground and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and the House of Blues in New Orleans.
Raycom has utilized its sales, distribution and production resources to telecast and produce a number of entertainment specials including the Dove Entertainment Awards (1987), Elvis’ Graceland Special (1987, 1988), the Emmy Awards for Sports (1988, 1989), four entertainment specials from Hollywood (1989), The Making of “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1991), the Naismith Awards (1992-1998), America Comes to Graceland (1993), Elvis: His Life and Times (1993, 1995, 1997), Off the Record with Pat Summerall (1994), Elvis, Touch the Dream, a New Generation (1995), Ford Supermodel of the World (1995), Holidays at Home (1995), The Making of the SI Swimsuit Issue (1995), New Year’s Eve Coast to Coast (1995), Racing Home (1996), Our Holiday Memories (1997), NASCAR Think Fast! (1998), BASS Masters Classic (1998), Golf 2000 with Peter Jacobsen (1999), Get Golf (2000), Tiger Woods Charity golf (2002-2003), the Ladies First Celebrity Golf Classic (2006), New Year’s Eve Peach Drop (2002-2005) and Citrus Bowl Parade (2002-2004).
From 1997 through 2001, Raycom also syndicated a nationally acclaimed sports program, “More Than A Game”, featuring positive stories from the sports world. In 1999, Raycom hosted a World Series promotion, looking for a story exemplifying sportsmanship. Jason Duncan, a seventh grader from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. caught Mark McGwire’s 56th home run ball and gave it back in return for a few autographed items. He then donated one of the items to a local children’s shelter auction. Raycom sent Duncan on an all-expense paid trip to Game 1 of the 1999 World Series featuring the New York Yankees visiting the Atlanta Braves.
While the company began concentrating more on its core sports programming, Raycom maintained an exclusive contract with the Estate of Elvis Presley (1987-1997). Haines became very close to the administrators of the Estate and as a result, Raycom syndicated a number of specials on the life of Elvis Presley. The first special, “Elvis’ Graceland”(1987), was distributed to nearly every television market in the United States and delivered an outstanding 7.2 rating over 93% of the country.
After the initial success of the first Elvis special, the company produced more specials to coincide with the August 26 events in Memphis surrounding the anniversary of Elvis’ death. Raycom hired such stars as Travis Tritt, Lisa Hartman and Mac Davis to host the specials. New York producer Cary Glotzer was in charge of production and the programs were distributed nationally during Elvis Tribute week. On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Raycom fed exclusive footage of the candlelight vigil to a special telecast airing nationally on VH-1.
The re-focusing of the company into event marketing and sports was accelerated in 1993 when the Fox network outbid CBS to acquire rights to the NFL. That single negotiation elevated the fees for all sports rights and opened a renegotiation of station and network contracts that resulted in many television station affiliation switches. Raycom capitalized upon the dramatic changes in the marketplace and used the opportunity to reduce its risk in a heightened sports rights marketplace. Concurrently, the company dramatically increased its role in providing marketing services to effectively maximize sports properties.
Again, the company found greater success in the sports arena than entertainment. Increased emphasis was placed on sports marketing and packaging.
Indicative of the company’s change in focus was the fact that Raycom represented, sold advertising and, in many instances, found distribution outlets (stations and networks) for a number of major sports properties. In 1995, Raycom sold the title to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in what many considered, at that time, to be the most expensive title to a college football game ever sold. In 2002, veteran salesman Jim Brannon sold Mazda the title to the Tangerine Bowl, and Continental Tire the title to the bowl game in Charlotte. In 2005, he then secured Meineke Car Care Centers as the title for the Charlotte bowl.
In addition, the company has represented the marketing/advertising rights to such prestigious football properties as the Cotton Bowl (1995), the Toyota Gator Bowl(1995-1996), the Liberty Bowl (1985-1989), the Freedom Bowl (1989-1994), the All American Bowl (1987), The Bluebonnet Bowl (1986) the Tangerine Bowl (2002-2003), the Big 12 Conference, the Pac-10, the Southeastern Conference, and the ACC. Raycom also represented the entire sports schedule of Sports Newsatellite, a company that provided sports highlights to all NBC network affiliates.
In 1994, the company teamed with the ACC to establish ACC Properties. Managed by Raycom, the program was regarded as the forerunner and model for future college sports marketing strategies with a core foundation of corporate partners. ACC Properties controls all marketing, internet, merchandising, promotion and licensing rights to ACC sports. In addition to having exclusive rights, each corporate partner is a major television sponsor on ACC sports telecasts. Initially ACC Properties was managed by Charlie Pittman, then Chris Fuller, Lisa Shaw and Wyatt Hicks. Currently Jeff Tennent manages ACC Properties and the Corporate Champions Program, with a staff that includes Shannon Fritts, Emily Brown and Senior Director of Sales Resources and Research Abby Christmas.
Many companies have been a part of the ACC Properties family for more than a decade. Some of these companies have included such ACC Corporate supporters as Food Lion, Pepsi, Geico, Chrysler, Progress Energy, RBC Bank, Chick-fil-A, Gatorade, AT&T and Toyota.
Playing tennis together at Hilton Head, S.C., Rick Ray and fellow Hilton Head resident Bert Ellis often talked about the changes in the broadcast industry. Ellis owned Ellis Communications and was looking to expand his broadcast holdings and properties. Ray was interested in finding a situation that would bring more capital and synergy to Raycom. On April 12, 1994 Ellis Communications purchased Raycom and a new era began. The Rays had built Raycom Sports into a nationally recognized brand, and in the process had become very visible in the Charlotte community. In 1989, they purchased the spacious Duke Mansion, also known as “White Oaks.” Dee and Rick Ray retired from Raycom in 1994 and 1995, respectively. They sold the Duke Mansion in 1996.
The company was sold again on September 12, 1996 when Ellis sold his holdings to a media group funded by the Retirement Systems of Alabama. The pension fund provided funding to acquire numerous radio and television stations and, based on the national visibility and reputation of the Raycom Sports name, chose Raycom Media as the name of its new corporate entity.
From past to present Raycom Sports has been visionary in its use of new production techniques. It was the first to use color billboards on all telecasts, the first to distribute games by means of satellite distribution, the first to employ “virtual signage” technology in college basketball and professional golf, and on December 3, 1999 the company was the first to telecast a college basketball game in high definition television (HDTV). At the 2007 ACC Tournament in Tampa, Raycom produced the first syndicated sports programming in HD.
In addition to many college telecasts, Raycom has provided the production of pre-season telecasts of ten NFL teams, including the Houston Oilers (1990-1994), Tennessee Titans (1998), Buffalo Bills (2000-2007), Washington Redskins (1999), Dallas Cowboys (1990-1991), Detroit Lions (1995), Kansas City Chiefs (1990), Minnesota Vikings (1994-1998), Arizona Cardinals (1999) and Carolina Panthers (1995-Present). In addition, Raycom’s Rolfe coordinated television production of the 2001 Miss Universe Pageant from Puerto Rico.
In 1997, a company (Del Wilbur) that was managing and operating an LPGA golf tournament in Charlotte, the Fieldcrest Cannon Classic, filed for bankruptcy. It was three weeks before the start of the tournament at the Peninsula Club at Lake Norman. Facing the prospect of the scheduled local event being cancelled on short notice, Haines assembled the entire Charlotte staff and Raycom stepped in and successfully staged the tournament, with only three weeks planning. The LPGA official tournament report gave the event a near perfect score.
As a result of the success of the Charlotte LPGA event, Raycom was able to add two LPGA golf tournaments, the Longs Drug Challenge (1998-2008) in Sacramento and later San Francisco, and the Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions (1998-2007) in Auburn/Opelika, Alabama and later Mobile.
Beginning in 2005, the Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions added Kathy Ireland Worldwide as the presenting sponsor. And in 2006, the Longs Drugs Challenge moved to the prestigious Blackhawk Country Club, near San Francisco.
Raycom also opened fully-staffed offices in Sacramento, Nashville and Mobile, and relocated bowl director Flajole from his position in Ft. Lauderdale to head the newly formed golf operations division in Sacramento. In a short period of time, Flajole negotiated to have Raycom hired by the Sacramento Sports Commission to handle sales and marketing for the U.S. Track & Field Trials in 2000, and again in 2004.
The Electrolux USA Championship in Nashville, hosted by Vince Gill and Amy Grant, was added in 2000 and was staged for three years. In 2002, Raycom and former Alabama All-American and NFL All-Pro Cornelius Bennett started a golf outing to raise money for local charities, the McDonald’s Cornelius Bennett Celebrity Golf Classic, which took place for three years.
In late 1999, Haines and Jefferson-Pilot Sports President Ed Hull worked with ACC Commissioner John Swofford in negotiating a renewal to the prestigious ACC basketball television contract. As a result, Raycom Sports and partner Jefferson-Pilot Sports extended their contract with the ACC for all basketball television and conference marketing rights through the 2010-2011 season.
The new package dissolved a cable exclusivity of ESPN and introduced a unique nationally televised Sunday night game of the week on the FOX Sports Net, while maintaining ACC games on ESPN, ABC, CBS, and the traditional Raycom syndicated package. All scheduling of ACC basketball games on any network was coordinated by Johnson, who worked closely with the ACC. Raycom continued to also handle marketing, sales, and distribution while Jefferson-Pilot oversaw production of the ACC package of games.
The new financial package committed more than $300 million to the ACC over a ten-year period and continued the conference’s record of being the most televised college basketball conference in the nation. The agreement between Raycom and the ACC marked 25 years that Raycom had been a television partner with the ACC. It also signified almost 30 years of a successful business relationship with Jefferson Pilot.
That successful relationship was strengthened again after the ACC announced that it was expanding and adding Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. The new teams helped cement the ACC as a true national football power.
Jefferson-Pilot Sports had held the ACC football syndication rights since 1984. In looking to renew those rights, it became obvious to both JP Sports and Raycom Sports that expanding their partnership was the next logical step. By using their basketball rights with new syndication football rights, Raycom/JP Sports could maximize marketing and distribution for both at the same time.
On Monday, April 19, 2004, Raycom Sports and Jefferson-Pilot Sports made a joint presentation to the ACC, which would secure football syndication rights as well as increase the financial commitment to the ACC for the basketball rights under the current contract. Despite bids by many other sports networks, and as a testament to the strong relationship with the ACC, Raycom/JP Sports was awarded the football syndication rights. As a result, Raycom Sports and Jefferson-Pilot Sports held the full ACC men’s basketball television rights and syndicated football rights through 2010-2011.
On April 1, 2006, Jefferson-Pilot Sports and its parent company were merged into Lincoln Financial Group and Jefferson-Pilot Sports was renamed Lincoln Financial Sports (LFS). Then on November 30, 2007, Raycom Media purchased Lincoln Financial Sports and the company became part of Raycom Sports. The purchase brought additional resources to Raycom in personnel and production facilities.
The 26-year history of JP Sports/ LF Sports included the production, marketing and distribution of Southeastern Conference basketball from 1986″â€œ2008 and football from 1992-2008. In addition, the company’s production facilities have been used for nearly 300 events each year.
In 1986, the company established a network of stations and produced the NASCAR Winston Cup races from Charlotte (1986-1987) and the World 600 (1986-1987). The Charlotte Carousel Parade (since 1983), the NFL Carolina Panthers preseason games (since 1995), the NHL Carolina Hurricanes (since 1997), the NBA Charlotte Hornets (1988-2002) and the Charlotte Criterion Bicycle Race (since 2004) utilized JP production services.
JP Sports, and its predecessor Jefferson-Pilot Teleproductions, also has a rich history in producing and marketing such events as The Great American Independent Football Package (1987-1990), which was a precursor to the Big East Football Conference, the North Carolina-South Carolina High School Football Shrine Bowl (1987-1990) and college football shows including Football Saturdays in the South (since 2004). Made for TV shows became a staple of JP Sports and have included such programs as the Southern Sports Awards Show (2005-2006), Beach Country Christmas (1996) and Olympic programming in ice skating, gymnastics and basketball.
As the U.S. prepared to host the Summer Olympics in 1996, JP Sports produced Olympic programming from 1994 through 1996, including the U.S. Olympic Festival on Ice, the John Hancock Gymnastics Tour, Riders Skating Tour, the John Hancock Rock’n'Roll Figure Skating Championship, Too Hot to Skate, Skater X 2, Rock’n'Roll on Ice, Christmas on Ice and Champaigne on Ice.
JP Sports conceived and produced Road to U.S. Olympic Gold (1995-1996), Ice Wars (1990-1996) and pre-Olympic basketball (1988). The company sponsored, produced and syndicated the Carolinas Invitational (1988), which was a pre-Olympic exhibition in basketball, swimming, cycling, baseball and boxing, and in partnership with NBC and USA Network distributed the Tour de Trump (1988-1989).
With two fully-equipped production trucks, including a new state-of-the-art High Definition truck put into service August of 2011, satellite services, uplink facilities and extensive editing capabilities, Raycom Sports is a leading producer of sporting events and is frequently used by national and regional networks to produce live events.
In September 2006, Raycom, in conjunction with Turner Sports New Media, began programming accselect.com, a broadband-based live streaming internet network. The venture featured live streaming of ACC Olympic-type sporting events. Over 1,000 events were produced the first two years of the service. In 2008, Raycom teamed with Jacked, Inc. to provide an interactive web initiative to integrate the web with the Raycom game telecasts.
In 2010, Raycom began a unique digital service on the official ACC web site which is managed by Raycom. The service named “The Vault” allows users to access old games, highlights and bundled facts and characteristics on players and games from the extensive Raycom and ACC libraries.
Also in 2010, Raycom began providing an iPhone and iPad app, and later a Droid and Windows app, to mobile ACC users featuring immediate access to live streaming games, highlights, detailed scoreboards, wireless alerts and other features.
Raycom, in 2011, entered into an agreement with Silver Chalice to establish an ACC Digital Network that would provide ACC programming to numerous digital platforms. It is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and contains a menu of news, information, analysis, features, videos and live programming about the ACC and its teams. A studio and edit suites were built in the Raycom Sports’ building. The ACC Digital Network is managed by Chad Swofford.
In the fall of 2011, Raycom began telecasting a live college football pregame and halftime studio show, “ACC Blitz,” with live game updates and cut-ins to other ACC games. The show is hosted by Danielle Trotta and former Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden.
Prior to 2010 a major shift occurred in the economics of college television rights. Starting in 2007 the Big Ten Conference launched its own “Big Ten Network” and two years later the SEC concluded a landmark deal with ESPN. Traditional advertising dollars could no longer support the high rights fees colleges and conferences were charging for televising their games. It was apparent that subscriber cable fees would now be the main revenue source in funding the escalating television fees.
Recognizing this change in the TV sports landscape, during the 2009 NCAA Final Four in Detroit, Ken Haines met with several cable network executives to discuss a combination bid for extending ACC television rights. Following 15 months of negotiations and meetings, Raycom, ESPN and the ACC made an announcement on June 8, 2010 that through a sublicense arrangement with ESPN, Raycom would continue its long-standing position as the syndication home of Atlantic Coast Conference content for over-the-air and regional cable network distribution. In addition, the syndicated Raycom ACC telecasts would be branded “The ACC Network,” which would be used for all Raycom ACC projects.
The new, unprecedented in length for Raycom, 12-year deal covered the 2011-2012 through 2022-2023 seasons and was reported to be 1.86 billion over the term. Importantly it provides that Raycom will continue to oversee the ACC’s official corporate partner program, ACC Corporate Champions. Raycom will also manage the conferences’ digital assets, all mobile platforms and theacc.com, the official conference web site.
The new agreement lasted for only one season as the ACC announced in 2012 the additions of the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University beginning in 2013. This forced the negotiation of a new 15-year ESPN agreement that was reported to be $3.6 billion over the term. The new agreement now included Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Haines again successfully negotiated with ESPN and FOX amendments to existing Raycom contracts that added the additional schools and ensured Raycom coverage of the ACC through the 2026-2027 seasons.
The new amended agreements continue syndication of ACC games nationally, all previous digital rights and continued management of ACC Corporate Champions. In addition, it allows for an expanded package of regional cable games that Raycom sub-licenses to FOX Sports South.
On December 16, 2011, Raycom acquired the assets of Tupelo-Honey, a leading sports and entertainment company based in New York City. Combined with Raycom Sports, the acquisition provided additional production and programming for Raycom Sports, including major league soccer and arena football. Tupelo-Honey is headed by Cary Glotzer, who worked with Raycom on several Elvis entertainment projects in the 1990′s.
Raycom is managed by President & Chief Executive Officer Ken Haines, who has been with the company since its inception. Prior to 2003, Raycom’s President & CEO was Warren, who served in that capacity from 1995 to November, 2002. The senior management at the company is one of the most tenured in the business.
With the purchase of LF Sports, Raycom retained key management, including Executive Vice President Ed Hull, who had been Jefferson-Pilot Sports President since 1984 (Hull retired in May, 2008), Jimmy Rayburn, vp of production since 1986, Roger Roebuck, distribution and production since 1988, Charles Moye, operations director since 1984, Becky Smith, finance director since 1985 and Rob Reichley, coordinating producer since 1993.
Distribution and digital multimedia was handled by Colin Smith, hired in 1995 and served as Vice President of New Media until 2012. Station relations are managed by George Johnson, who also oversees event operations. Ad sales and marketing is under the leadership of Jeff Tennant. Business operations are managed by Controller Becky Smith, while media relations and communications are headed by Frank Kay, who has been with the company since 1998.
In 2012, Jimmy Rayburn was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the company under Haines. Chad Swofford was named Senior Director of New Media & Business Development and Rob Reichley was named Executive Producer.
Raycom Sports prides itself on stability and experience. Those employees who have served the company for more than 20 years include Haines, Rayburn, Johnson, Rolfe, Brannon, Ford, Moye, Kathy Fretz, Becky Smith, Kim Triantis, Laura Rhyne, Joe Brock, Kelly Kent and Lois Ejups.
Today, Raycom Sports, with over 70 employees, is a division of Raycom Media of Montgomery, Alabama, where Paul McTear is the CEO. In addition to having oversight of Raycom Sports, McTear, a former Providence Journal company executive, manages the 47 Raycom Media television stations that comprise over 12.6% of the U.S. television marketplace.
Raycom has been housed in six locations in Charlotte since 1979. It was initially located on Park Road, near the Park Road Shopping Center. In 1982, the company moved to Rexford Road, near The Shops at South Park. From 1985-1992, the headquarters were on Trade Street, near the county courthouse. In 1992, the company operated from a spacious facility on East Boulevard in the Dilworth section of the city. Raycom relocated to a new building complex near the Charlotte Coliseum in 1998. With the purchase of LFS (Jefferson-Pilot Sports), Raycom moved in 2008 to a sports complex on Morehead Street across from WBTV, also owned by Raycom Media.
The Charlotte based company, has provided employment to over 500 employees and income for hundreds of other freelance employees. It is not only the oldest, but also the premier regional television sports syndication company in the nation.
Dedicated to charitable and community causes, every Raycom event designates a local charity to be a recipient of funds. As a stable and committed employer, Raycom Sports continues a tradition of “integrating powerful media with innovative marketing.”