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From politics to pro sports, Mel Raines juggles it all

Mel Raines, president and COO of Pacers Sports & Entertainment (L) talks with Inside INdiana Business reporter Mary-Rachel Redman.

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — Pacers Sports and Entertainment President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Raines has had a front row seat to history throughout her career, including time as an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. She was named PS&E president last December and is now the driving force behind the $360 million renovation of Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Raines first joined the organization in 2015.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, Raines explained how this “kid from South Bend” first entered the political arena and has traversed into the sports arena.

“I absolutely mistakenly fell into politics,” admitted Raines. “I got back from my senior year in Bloomington and saw an internship opportunity in Washington DC.”

That internship was in the office of the U.S. Senator Dan Coates of Indiana. Raines says during her time there, she was sorting mail and other odd jobs.

“I was answering the phones during the Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court confirmation. The phone lines kept going down because you couldn’t send an email to your Senator,” remembered Raines.

Following her five years of public service in D.C., Raines accepted a private sector job in New York City.

She was there on September 11, 2001. The tragedy of 9-11 prompted her return to public service. Then, Raines received a call from the West Wing and the President George W. Bush Administration.

“I was assistant to Vice President Cheney for political affairs,” said Raines. “When I went to the interview, I was terrified. You walk in, where the Marine guard is standing… and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘how did this girl from South Bend wind up in the West Wing?’”

Back in Indiana, Raines joined Pacers Sports & Entertainment in 2015. In March 2020, she was promoted to executive vice president for corporate communications and facility operations. Late last year, Raines was named president and COO.

Raines says despite the obvious differences between serving a role in national politics in Washington and that of professional sports in Indiana, there is a common bond.

“It was not as difficult as you might think. You’ve got to be nimble. You’ve got to adjust to change quickly. You’ve got to be able to work long hours. You’re never really off. It’s a 24/7. Both are 24/7 jobs. Really,” said Raines.

That 24/7 job now includes seeing the multi-million-dollar Gainbridge Fieldhouse renovation through to the end, which will occur later this year.

“We started from the bottom of the building, and we’re working our way up. The main thing we have left to do is the balcony. And that will be this summer. We have to replace 8,500 seats,” shared Raines. “We’re just over two thirds of the way done inside.”

Raines is joined by PS&E Vice President Lori Miser and lead engineer Melody Park as the female triumvirate overseeing the project. While that fact is not lost on Raines, she says Miser and Park had the credentials the project needed.

“The two of them just live this every day and their knowledge of how all this works. It’s been great and it’s great that they’re women, but they’re the two best people that we could have hired.”