Attend or turn on almost any sporting event – Wimbledon, the Olympics, the NBA, NHL, PGA Tour, you name it – and chances are you’ll see the work of Rallis Pappas ’78 on the scoreboard or the broadcast. No, he’s not some crossover sports phenom, but as the co-founder of Information and Display Systems (IDS) in 1984 (now part of SportsMEDIA Technology, or SMT), he is a sports-information graphic pioneer.
“People are clamoring for more content,” says Pappas, during a visit to Charleston for a tennis team reunion. “It’s being used for coaching purposes, making golf courses better, evaluating performances. But you can’t forget how to present that to the fans to give them more value. When we look at technology, we have to apply it across all mediums and client bases. That’s what’s made it an interesting career for me. Just the events we travel to. It’s like moving a small army around the world.”
Pappas was one of those footsoldiers when he got into the industry in 1980. After graduating with a history degree and backpacking around Europe, he was teaching tennis at the Ponte Vedra Club near Jacksonville, Fla., when one of his clients, Richard Wammock, asked him and his teammate, Jim Ingalls ’78, to come work for him at the PGA Tour, which is based in Ponte Vedra. The tour was building its first computerized mobile scoring system and Wammock wanted them to travel from tournament to tournament to set it up and run it.
The fact that Pappas, who grew up in Charleston, didn’t know a lick about golf wasn’t a problem. After learning how to run the system, as well as how to drive an 18-wheeler, Pappas put his M.B.A. plans on hold and spent the next few years on the road with Ingalls.
“It was a challenge,” says Pappas, who became adept at burying lots of cable. “We had to install 22 scoreboards, train volunteers to do the data input. I learned a lot about how lightning impacted electronics. I had zero computer or electronic skills. By the end of the first year, I was soldering chips and repairing PC boards.”
As tennis players, Pappas and Ingalls thought about how their sport could be improved by the technology, so they started a side business – IDS – designing their own system and securing a one-year deal with the men’s tour. The business expanded rapidly to other sports.
“Our focus initially was on making the onsite experience as meaningful as possible,” says Pappas. “How do we give fans as much information onsite as if they were sitting at home watching it on TV?”
They eventually started improving the viewing experience at home, too, with all kinds of real-time stats for, among many others, the NBA, NHL, the Masters and PGA Tour, including the tour’s vaunted ShotLink golf-shot tracking system. Pappas sold the company to SMT in 2012, but remains a senior advisor on corporate initiatives at SMT – Jacksonville, working with Wimbledon, USGA, U.S. Open, the Olympic Games and the Australian Open.
He and his wife of 31 years, Dendy, a financial advisor, have two sons, one of whom, Michael, graduated from the College in 2012. They own a condo in town and visit often from their home in Atlantic Beach, just south of Jacksonville.
“I felt like I got a really good education at the College,” says Pappas, who was just elected to the Foundation Board. “As a history major, I wrote a lot of papers that helped me out in business, trying to write proposals and get organized and be disciplined with my time. The school prepared me in a way I never expected.”
Now that’s a score worth broadcasting.