SBJ: The Legacy of Jerry Cifarelli, Sr. LEARFIELD’s ANC moves from an LED kingpin to a new experiential leader.

January 17, 2022
Bret McCormick

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 exit from ANC, in a way completing the company's transition from its initial advertising focus to, now, a digital media technology solutions provider. As now 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.

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One of ANCs signature projects is the curved LED tunnel at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland - CLEVELAND CAVALIERS / NORM TREPAL PHOTOGRAPHY

"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 departure 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 LiveSync 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.

"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,

(Bret McCormick, SBJ)