Pacers Around the House with Rick Fuson
July 29, 2011
Eddie White: Hello there, Eddie White here. It’s another version, edition-- we don’t know what we’re calling it yet-- of Around the House. Now we go to a guy who has kind of ran the house for a long time, the Chief Operating Officer-- big title-- for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, Rick Fuson. Rick, how are you doing?
Rick Fuson: I am doing wonderful. How about you?
Eddie: I’m doing spectacular. I got a lot of things to go over with you. For over 30 years, you’ve been a very visible and very important part of the Pacers family. When I say the Pacers family, it’s the Pacers, it’s the Fever, it’s Conseco Fieldhouse. Going back to the MSA days, you’ve had your hand in about everything for 30 years. How did you get started? How did you get here in the first place?
Rick: I’m a lucky guy. I had no training in the business that I’ve been in for 30 years. But I’m an Indianapolis guy. My dad was a sports writer for the Indianapolis News; came from Terre Haute in 1946. Built his reputation up and made a lot of friends. I came out of IU and went to California to work for a year. My degree is in political science and I came back here and sold bulldozers for McAllister Machinery Company for nearly ten years. And when Herb and Mel bought the team in ‘83, ‘84, my dad had some great relationships and I was looking to maybe make a change. They were looking for somebody that maybe had a little Indianapolis sense, a little marketing sense. I was in the right place at the right time. You know, guys like Mel and Herb took a chance on me. The dear departed Larry Conrad, Bob Salyers hired me when he was president of the Pacers and I got lucky. From there, it just took off and it was just really hard work and making sure we were doing the right things for the city, and for the Pacers, and for the Fever, and Market Square Arena was a great place. Then we built Conseco Fieldhouse and it’s been a great career but it’s been about hard work and good fortune in this wonderful city.
Eddie: Our show is called Around The House and we go around Conseco Fieldhouse and find people, personalities. But, before we talk about the house, I want to talk about… I’ve lived here for twenty something years and I think one of the most vibrant, exciting, explosive places ever and that was Market Square Arena. The old MSA, I’m sure you have a lot of memories from that place and you were probably a little sad when it came down. Tell us about MSA and what was maybe your best memory of that place from all those years, if you could pick one?
Rick: It was a scary memory but it was a great memory. I remember being in, probably, the conference finals against New York and Spike Lee was sitting in the front row. It was one of those times where we had somebody who decided that they wanted to take a little more money instead of sitting in their seat for this great game. Donnie Walsh was sitting down at the end like he always did at Market Square Arena. It was intense and Market Square Arena was just unbelievable you know. Single bowl, everybody was on top of you, just crazy. And it was in May and it was hot and the air conditioning wasn’t working worth a hoot. So guys would explain to me, like Boston Garden, when they got ice down and it was hot and smoke was coming up and whatever else. It was unbelievable and I think we were beating New York by a point or two. Spike had done his thing and tried to do his voodoo magic, and whatever else gets done. And we were beating them. And Donnie Walsh called me over with fifteen seconds to go in the game and people are on Spike Lee. Donnie goes to me, “You make sure you get him out of this house safely.” I’m going, “How in the heck am I going to do that?” But we did and it was one of the greatest times I ever remember because not really being trained in the business but knowing about people, knowing about security people, and knowing what we had to get him out of there. It was a great moment when we were beating New York, where such a great personality like Spike Lee, who’s into it so much and so internationally known for his love of New York basketball. I was responsible because my boss told me to make sure we got him out of there safely. Great Win. Got him out of there safely.
Eddie: You saved Spike Lee. You know, they’ve replaced Yankee Stadium, they replaced the Boston Garden. There was nothing like the old places, they had character. Now, you have these new places, new Yankee Stadium, we now have Conseco Fieldhouse, Colts have a new place. How do you get the same emotion and passion into these new buildings? Is it possible now to do it?
Rick: Absolutely it is. I think this building, Conseco Fieldhouse. You know we could have built a big spaceship building like they’ve done indifferent places around the country. I’ll never forget Herb, Donnie Walsh, and the mayor Steve Goldsmith at that time and a bunch of people really just sitting in a room talking about “Hey, what can we make in Indianapolis for the new generation of buildings here like we’ve had in the past?” We had a great state fair coliseum, Assembly Hall is a great building, Mackey Arena, we’ve got 15 out of 16 largest high school gyms in the country in our state. There was a way to do it I think and while it’s a bigger building, it’s got more square feet but the emotion is about what the people make it. You can put a lot of things in brick and mortar and we’ve done that in this building. So it’s not like we’ve gone from Market Square Arena that was a great tight place with a lot of emotion to a building that looks like a spaceship that doesn’t belong in Indianapolis. This is a place that talks about the history of basketball and where else is basketball more important than in Indiana. So the bricks and mortar make it feel good but the people that come here to root the Pacers on, the Fever on, to go to a concert or whatever else really make the emotion. So I don’t think the people have changed, the building is a great place to be here and it invokes the memories that we have all had for most of our lifetimes about basketball and other entertainment things. But I think the people make it, and the people continue to come to this building and really make it a wonderful place. Maybe it’s not as loud at times because the geometric situation of the building is a little different but it is as fun and as emotional as any place we have ever had.
Eddie: How prideful do you get? Just the other day I was walking around the halls and there was a group from China taking a tour and they were taking pictures of the trophy cases and stuff like that. How proud do you get when you talk to national basketball writers? Mike Tirico, from ESPN told me last fall that his favorite building in the NBA is Conseco Fieldhouse because of their respect for the tradition of the game. He goes, “You don’t go anywhere else and see trophy cases. You don’t see pictures of old… It’s like you guys did a wonderful job of bringing the past and hooking it up to this future and you have a building that’s the best in the country.”
Rick: Thank you. You know a lot of people had a lot of play in that. This building is really a high touch building not a high tech building. Every thing is going high tech. We really wanted to invoke what the heart of Indiana is about, and the heart of basketball in Indiana. We feel so very good about people still coming here. You know we’re twelve years now, going into our thirteenth season and people are still coming here to see this building. They’ve heard about it all over the world. I happen to think that it’s the best basketball facility any place. I was just at an NBA meeting and an NBA guy who has been around to all the buildings said, “You know what, I brought my son there when the NCAA Final Four was in Indianapolis last time and we came to the Pacer game. That’s my favorite building.” You know probably the biggest testament is that Charlotte built a new building; it’s got a lot of Conseco Fieldhouse in it. Memphis built a new building; it’s got a lot of Conseco Fieldhouse in it. When the New Jersey Nets folks were looking to build a new building, they had a whole big design that was going to cost a billion dollars and because of the financial situation and whatever else that wasn’t possible. So they turned to Herb Simon and subsequently to us and we met with them. We got them with our architect and the construction people that built this building. I think you will find that when the building opens in Brooklyn in 2012 that you’re going to see it’s going to be Conseco Fieldhouse out east. It’s great. We’re getting as many people touring today, coming through this building. After twelve years, it’s really an amazing thing that the city built here, that Herb and Mel, Donnie and Jim Morris have all been apart of, Bird being a part of it. I’ll never forget, when they were building the building, the construction guys, ‘the new bird house.’ It makes me feel warm inside not only about what we’ve done in terms of brick and mortar but makes me feel so happy about how good our city is about bringing things together to make sure that we recognize that past but we’re going into the future as well.
Eddie: All your years in the business-- both buildings, now home of the Pacers, the home of the Fever-- do you have a favorite event that comes in every year?
Rick: I got a lot of great events. How can you beat the NBA Finals when we’re playing the Los Angeles Lakers in Conseco Fieldhouse in the NBA Finals in the first year we’re open? That’s tremendous. Then to see the women play a few years later in the finals of the WNBA? Then from the other events standpoint, world swimming. Think about it-- the first time in the United States that we had a short course world swimming championship inside. We have one of the greatest natatoriums anyways on the other side of town. This became a world-record pool here.
Eddie: Did they come to you to do that or did you go to those guys?
Rick: The partnerships that we have in town with the Indiana Sports Corporation. Dale Neuburger, at the point was the president of Indiana Sports Corporation and also was very involved with swimming. I’ll never forget, Tom Rutledge our operations VP and Dale and I were in Hong Kong. They did it in Hong Kong and it was a crummy little gym, leaking I mean it was unbelievable. We sat there in 1999 and we were like yeah we can do this but we had no clue how to do it. Tommy goes, “I don’t even know whether the concrete on the floor can handle all the pressure.” But that’s why Indianapolis has been so successful because we’ve had so many opportunities to take risks and in most every case it has worked out. That was a tremendous event. But how can you not remember things like when you have the opportunity to stand in a picture between Elton John and Billy Joel or have paparazzi. Or have the symphony in here or the rodeo. The opportunities that we do here every day-- just recently you do a press conference with the mayor for volunteerism, the boy scouts come in here for lunch-- I mean it’s just the whole thing coming together makes it one great career of events that see people smile.
Eddie: My last question is that I think to me as most special one. I love how Pacers Sports & Entertainment, through the vehicles of the Pacers and Fever, have always given back to the community. It’s not lip service, its real and the evidence is there. But an extension of that is this building whether its high school graduations, or an IPS celebration, or it’s a bar mitzvah, or something it’s always doing something for the community. I can’t help but ask you this: this past winter on one of the coldest days in the history of this city, this building, this organization stepped up and did something that I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it. I got to assume that it might be one of your proudest moments, share that with us.
Rick: There was the unfortunate death of Officer Moore from IMPD and there was no question that that was a heartfelt situation in our city. We knew that it was not going to be able to be held in a sanctuary some place. There were too many people who were coming from all around the country. There was just no doubt that that’s something that we should be apart of, that we should offer to the family through our friends Danny Overly and all who have a team that help families in transition in that situation. So we offered the building to say hey we want to host it. We’re not looking for publicity. We don’t want anybody to say hey the Pacers came to us and said they can have the building. We just want to help you honor this man who helped us be so safe in our town. It was absolutely one of the proudest moments. We had come out of a Pacer game. We were here all night. Courtney Howell, who’s a production manager for us, Doug Weitkamp who’s a production manager for us and Tom Rutledge, Greg Schenkel, and you Eddie were all a part of that thing. It was the most heartfelt moment and probably the most proud moment that I remember in my career that we were able to share this wonderful city building that has so much character and so much good feel for what we love about Indiana that this could be the final service for this great man. It shows that it’s a community building. That’s the way we were taught, that’s the way Herb, that’s the way Melvin, that’s the way our president Jim Morris has helped us learn to be. That our purpose is to give back to this community, to make sure that those less fortunate or in tough situations, if we can help them then our job is to help them.
Eddie: I can’t say it any better. Thanks so much for coming by. Around The House with the guy that makes the house run. Tune in next week for more guests. Tune in all summer and winter long. Don’t go anywhere. Join us.