Raycom’s Haines is signing off after colorful career in sports TV
The original plan in 1980 called for Ken Haines to help a fledgling media company in Charlotte get off the ground, and about three years later return to his old job at Virginia Tech in charge of public affairs.
“The school president thought it’d be a good idea for me to get some experience in the private sector and then return,” Haines said. “I really thought I’d spend the rest of my career in higher education.”
What was supposed to be a three-year run at Raycom Sports turned into a 35-year stay at the production and syndication company in North Carolina, most of that time as president and CEO.
Haines, 73, has told Raycom that he will retire at the end of the year, bringing an end to one of the most colorful and eventful careers in television. He says he will stay in Charlotte with his wife, Stephanie, but he plans to spend plenty of time at Sunset Beach, N.C., where he recently bought a vacation home.
While teaching and consulting are possibilities, “I don’t want to underestimate the value of doing nothing,” he said with a laugh.
Throughout those 35 years at Raycom, Haines worked most notably with the ACC, but also the Big 8, Big Ten, Pac-10, Southwest, Metro and Southeastern conferences.
He ran college basketball tournaments and LPGA golf tournaments, he organized college football regular-season games and bowl games, he sold sponsorships and created digital networks.
“He’s seen everything,” said WME-IMG’s Karen Brodkin, who did several deals with Haines during her 15 years at Fox Sports. “He’s one of those people who, if you’re coming up in the business, you need to spend some time with and just listen to.”
While those many achievements are celebrated, Haines’ career might be just as noteworthy for all of the events he conceived that didn’t happen.
In 1989, he organized a game between Southern California and Illinois that would be played in Russia and called it the Glasnost Bowl. Last-minute political wranglings forced the game stateside, but it would have been the first college football game played outside the U.S.
Six years earlier in 1983, Haines worked with ESPN to create Season Ticket, a package of ACC basketball games that would be sold for $2.50 to $3 each across 25 games, in addition to the free over-the-air games. Negative fan backlash killed the concept.
“And now we have conference networks,” Haines said with a laugh.
In 1990, Haines and Raycom were commissioned by the now-defunct Metro Conference to study conference realignment. Haines was the first to introduce the concept of four 16-team super conferences some 25 years ago, even though it was never formalized.
“We were a couple of decades too soon,” said Haines, who grew up in Arlington, Va., as a passionate Redskins fan and played trumpet in the team’s marching band when he was in high school. “Hail to the Redskins” is burned in his memory.
Throughout the years, many clients came and went, but the staple of Raycom’s business has been TV production — at its peak, Raycom was producing 500 live games a year — syndication and the ACC, a relationship that goes back to the 1980-81 basketball season.
Haines forged a strong bond and friendship with John Swofford, who became ACC commissioner in 1997, and Raycom to this day retains the ACC’s rights for syndication of games, corporate sponsorships and the digital network.
“I always found his counsel and insights to be very helpful, even well beyond television,” Swofford said. “He has this very unique way of assessing situations. He’s been a constant in our league.”
It’s uncertain who will replace Haines. Jimmy Rayburn is the company’s chief operating officer and George Johnson and Jeff Tennant are senior vice presidents.
But it’s hard to imagine Raycom’s next boss going on the same ride Haines enjoyed, through the successes and the failures, as the college landscape matured in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
“Those are as valuable in growing a company as the successes,” Haines said. “You learn more from your failures than you do your successes.”