LEARFIELD’s ANC moves from an LED kingpin to an experiential leader.
Adapting to new digital display technology since pioneering digital courtside signage and ribbon boards in 1997, now industry standards.
"What we fundamentally do is make the physical world experiential, and LED happens to be a primary tool with which we do that now. but it's only one," said ANC CEO, George Linardos.

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SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL

BY BRET MCCORMICK
1.17.2022

ANC was founded in 1997 by Jerry Cifarelli with a focus on in-venue rotational advertising signage.  Over the years, the company adapted to new technology, pioneering digital courtside signage and ribbon boards, now industry standards.

On Dec. 31, Cifarelli announced his retirement, in a way completing the company's transition from its initial advertising focus to, now, a digital media technology solutions provider. As CEO George Linardos put it, ANC now has the broad tech toolkit to go far beyond signage, bringing to life whole places, the physical world, without the need for cumbersome virtual reality gear.

One of ANCs signature projects is the curved LED tunnel at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland - CLEVELAND CAVALIERS / NORM TREPAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Linardos
"The places themselves activate," said Linardos, "so that it delivers this really cool experience. You're seeing the technology on our side to create those moments."

The first steps toward Cifarelli's retirement began when Learfield took control of ANC by purchasing the remaining outstanding equity stake around four years ago. Cifarelli spent the intervening period mentoring ANC's leadership, about 20 executives, in all aspects of the business in advance of his eventual departure.

Cifarelli's career took off in the late 1980s at sports marketing agency Dorna USA, where he pioneered advertising behind home plate in Major League Baseball and the use of rotational signage, which quickly replaced static advertising in sports venues. Cifarelli shepherded the sale of Dorna USA to Van Wagner, then launched ANC in 1997 with the help of former Boston Celtics owner Alan N. Cohen, from whose initials the company's name was derived.

One of Cifarelli's clear imprints on ANC is adaptability, a characteristic that kept the company at the leading edge of technological developments during the past 25 years. Two years after its founding, the ANC Technologies division was created and it helped the company pioneer software to run the first ribbon boards in pro sports for the Ottawa Senators in 1999, then put the first digital courtside display in an NBA arena in 2005, in Portland.

Over the ensuing decades, the emergence of LED technology transformed the company from its on-camera advertising roots to one whose primary focus centered on the possibilities LED offered, including center-hung scoreboards. In the early 2010s, the company began moving beyond the boundaries of traditional rectangular LED screens, bringing venues to life with installations like the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Power Portal in Cleveland, an immersive LED tunnel that opened in 2013.

ANC installed, designed, maintained, and (through its vSOFT Control Software) operated thousands of LED displays across the sports industry, and built a marketing department, creating a full-circle service operation and one of the in-sports venue display market's leading companies.

Cifarelli
"Our competitors weren't doing that, and I think the success of ANC was we were coming in as a turnkey solution for our customers," - Cifarelli said.

The company changed hands twice in the 2010s before an initial equity stake was sold to Learfield in 2015. Learfield came back two years later to purchase the remaining outstanding shares, and Linardos was brought in as the CEO.

Unlike some of its competitors, including display tech titan Daktronics, ANC doesn't manufacture its LED displays. Its manufacturing partners include Lighthouse Technologies and DigiLED, which produced the curved LED tunnel at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Not being a manufacturer made ANC nimbler and more flexible as the rate of tech development snowballed in recent years, Cifarelli said.

"We're not bound to where we sunk an R&D investment three years ago and limit our market to that," said Linardos. "That's a much more creative business to be in than just supply chain and factory economics."

In 2019, ANC merged with GoVision, a mobile display provider for live events ranging from PGA Tour events to presidential inaugurations. A year later, ANC partnered with GLAAM, whose construction-grade media glass can turn the entire exterior of a building into an LED canvas, technology that hasn't been deployed in the sports world yet but will make an unforgettable impact when it is. Both GoVision and GLAAM speak to a future where ANC brings displays beyond sports venue seating bowls, and into the ingress experience, pregame tailgating lots, and large-scale public watch parties.

"We want to have a really broad toolkit of technologies that can transform the physical world. When we see things like GLAAM, we're very keen to form those partnerships and bring it into commercial use," said Linardos.

"It's not just LED, but it's whatever these things are that are creating magic."
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT (2021)

Today, ANC has technology implementations in 150 sports venues throughout the United States and Canada, including Wells Fargo Center, which runs 30,000 square feet of LED procured by ANC, has its ITV system running on ANC's platform and all displays running on ANC's software. The company installs roughly 40 to 50 projects per year in sports, including pro. minor, collegiate and high school sports venues and now employs 170 people full-time. Its college sports venue business should continue to expand, thanks to Learfield's involvement.

In recent years, ANC entered the non-sports public facility world, including major projects at Westfield World Trade Center, Pier 17 at Seaport District NYC, and Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station, and Linardos sees major grow1h potential there. Prior to COVID, ANC had a three-year, double-digit compound annual growth rate, near 20%, according to a knowledgeable source. September was the largest revenue month in history for ANC's events division, and Linardos said the company has a record number of projects in the bidding phase.

As the company moves forward following its founder's retirement, "It's important to me that we're not just defined as an LED company," said Linardos, who came to ANC from the entertainment industry. "What we fundamentally do is make the physical world experiential, and LED happens to be a primary tool with which we do that now. but it's only one."

Publish Date: Monday, January 17, 2022

https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Journal/Issues/2022/01/17/Portfolio/Venue-Technology.aspx