Media Scene

Ken Haines, who led TV and collegiate sports into new era, retiring from Raycom Sports

Ken Haines in the booth at Virginia Tech in 1978 before joining Raycom Sports.
Ken Haines in the booth at Virginia Tech in 1978 before joining Raycom Sports.

Outside his office, Ken Haines keeps posters heralding his greatest failures, including a 1982 venture that delivered an ACC basketball package via cable TV. An idea ahead of its time, the ACC Ticket lasted only one season.

“I figured I’d learn something when I look at them,” says Haines.

On the rest of the walls of the Raycom Sports complex on Morehead Street are trophies to the company’s many successes, ranging from its long ACC partnership to Raycom-developed bowl games to syndicated Elvis tributes.

Haines, president of Raycom Sports, is retiring this month, ending a storied broadcasting career in which he helped shape the national collegiate TV landscape.

In 1979, Rick Ray left his job as a program manager at WCCB (Channel 18) and launched Raycom Sports. Haines was hired from Virginia Tech, where he was assistant to the president and managed the university’s radio network.

Tech president William Lavery told Haines it would be good to work in the private sector a while, then return to the university with broader knowledge.

“I said it’ll be a couple years, certainly no more than five,” says Haines, 73. “That was 35 years ago.”

Together with Dee Ray, Haines and Ray built Raycom into the ACC’s broadcast partner and bought rights to other big conferences.

Much of the success was because Raycom was far more nimble than the networks when it came to deal-making, Haines says.

By 1988, Raycom was the nation’s dominant regional collegiate sports network, producing more than 400 games annually for the ACC, Southwest, Big Eight, Pac-10 and Metro Conference.

It launched tournaments and LPGA events, brought college football games to Bank of America Stadium and started the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, now the Belk Bowl.

Ray and his wife have long since sold the company and moved to Hilton Head. Haines stayed on through management changes.

Among the big changes Haines recalls in the industry during his tenure:

▪  When Raycom launched, most major conferences had little more than game-of-the-week football and basketball appearances. Now every key game from every major conference is broadcast.

▪  “Money in TV rights has expanded phenomenally,” he says. Rights to conference games in the beginning were maybe a couple million dollars a year – now deals are done in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

▪  Production values are so much higher than they were in poorly-lit arenas of the ’80s. Everything from digital screens to imposed first-down lines to graphics to multiple slow-motion camerawork is far superior, he says.

▪  Raycom Media now provides content to phones, tablets and computers.

▪  Big sponsors have emerged as a driving force behind the economics of the business.

Haines plans to stay in Charlotte with his wife Stephanie. And he’ll still be following the ACC.

“I think being able to recruit and maintain a staff that made possible a 35-year relationship with the Atlantic Coast Conference,” he says, “is what I’m most proud of.”