Small town values lead Sutton to success

Published 4:05 pm Saturday, May 1, 2010

MURFREESBORO – What do Mayberry and Murfreesboro have in common?

Even though one is fictional, both are small towns in North Carolina and each groomed and nurtured two of the most successful men in America today.

Mayberry was the home to Opie Taylor (aka Ron Howard, a Hollywood actor, writer, director, producer with nine Academy Awards to his credit).

Murfreesboro is the hometown of Ben Sutton Jr. – the chairman and CEO of International Sports Properties (ISP Sports) with a cliental list that includes Duke, Notre Dame, UCLA, Georgia, Pitt, Syracuse and Washington.

Earlier this week, Sutton came home to Murfreesboro where he boasted that Opie Taylor has nothing on him.

“Murfreesboro is the real Mayberry,” said Sutton who served as the featured guest at the 58th annual Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce Banquet held Monday night at John’s Seafood.

“Murfreesboro is the place that taught me the core values…the three base values, faith, family and friends; they are the only things that really matter,” Sutton continued. “This is a place where we brought my brother to be buried when he passed away a few years ago. There’s no better tribute to an area than to ask to be buried there. It shows the love you have for that area, and Steve did indeed love Murfreesboro.

“It makes me feel good to be here tonight to see that Murfreesboro is doing well…driving down Main Street it warmed my heart to see full store fronts,” he said. “I applaud the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce for your efforts here.”

Sutton said it was his parents – Ben Sr., the former Business Manager at what is now Chowan University, and Minnie Branch, and the people of Murfreesboro that taught him another key lesson, that of believing in himself.

“I was taught that when you work hard and work through adversity, there’s really nothing that you can’t accomplish in life,” Sutton noted. “I took those lessons of life and developed a passion for the business I’m in. I have the best job in the United States.”

That job has detailed taking a tiny company formed in 1992 and turn it into a household name when it comes to college athletics.

“We are the largest sports network in the country,” Sutton said. “We are able, because of our size, to go out and sell national advertising packages. We compete with ESPN; we compete with FOX; they are our two biggest competitors. My dream is to buy ESPN and make it ISPN. Dad always taught me to dream big.”

Based in Winston-Salem, ISP represents 65 different Division 1-A universities and conferences all over the nation. Five are located in North Carolina – Appalachian State, Duke, East Carolina, Elon and his alma mater, Wake Forest.

ISP has 300 total employees that are fanned out all over the nation in 65 offices. The firm is in the sales, production, distribution, event management business. They handle TV and radio play-by-play, radio and TV college coaches shows, large video screens in football stadiums and coliseums and are the nation’s largest publisher of game-day publications for college and pro sports. ISP’s diverse offerings include the Web, promotional and hospitality business, ticketing, stadium seating, licensing, merchandise and training and development.

“We’re in the multi-media rights business,” Sutton said. “Basically, we go in to a college/university and pay them hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and we buy their rights to all of the things I previously mentioned. Our sales team then goes out and sells the advertising sponsorships around this.”

He continued, “I have a great radio and TV production staff, with studios right there in Winston-Salem. They produce all this programming, we air it and we make our money by selling advertising. We have 1,000 radio stations, 200 television stations and 10 cable networks around the country that carry ISP programming.”

Among the “big name” leagues represented by ISP include the ACC (9 of the 12 schools), Big East, Conference USA, Southeastern Conference, PAC 10, Mid-American Conference and Mountain West Conference.

“We represent schools stretching from the East Coast, through the southwest to the West Coast…where about 85 percent of America’s eyes and ears live…that fact makes it very attractive to our advertisers,” he stressed.

“If it weren’t for Wake Forest, there would be no ISP,” Sutton added. “Had it not been for Murfreesboro, there would be no ISP. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing and enjoying my work so much had it not been for people like John and Barbara Revelle and Hugh and Janet Vincent keeping me out of trouble when I was young. Then there are people like Jay (Revelle) and LuAnn (Joyner), two of my very best friends. The values I now carry in life were instilled in me right here in Murfreesboro. Thank you Murfreesboro for keeping me on a path that led to something like this (ISP).”

While she joked that Sutton was a cunning entrepreneur at a very early age….“he sold me his cruddy old GI Joes at a yard sale so my Barbie dolls would have companions,”…Joyner said she was proud of her lifelong friend.

“He is obviously an incredibly successful businessman,” Joyner said when introducing Sutton to the banquet crowd. “But the thing that means the most to me about Ben is that he has never lost touch with his roots and his values, values he learned through his parents while living in a small town such as Murfreesboro. He still calls Murfreesboro home.”

The annual banquet also included the presentation of three traditional awards. Murfreesboro Mayor and Chowan University Vice President John Hinton was honored with the Sammy Doughtie Community Service Award as presented by WDLZ-FM; Murfreesboro Councilwoman and Mayor Pro-Tem Molly Eubank earned the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Front Page Award and Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce President Dell Aycock received the Chamber’s annual award.

Murfreesboro businessman and Chamber member Ray Felton served as the Master of Ceremonies.