As media from around the world converged on Cleveland for the Republican National Convention last summer, Len Komoroski knew about the skepticism many had expressed about the assignment.
“Of the 15,000 media members that came, probably 14,800 of them had never been to Cleveland,” says Komoroski, CEO of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena and the 2016 recipient of the Kent Clapp CEO Leadership Award.
“You look at all the tweets coming in and they were all lamenting having to come here. Then afterwards, it was diametrically opposed. What a great city, phenomenal, such a well-kept secret. It’s amazing how things have come together downtown and it’s spreading into the neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs as well. We’re fortunate to play a big part in it.”
It’s hard to think of a year that has generated more positive momentum in the city of Cleveland than 2016.
It started in June when the Cavs won the city’s first pro sports title in 52 years, defeating the Golden State Warriors to capture the franchise’s first NBA championship. After a parade drew 1.3 million people downtown, work quickly began to ready The Q for the RNC in late July.
The weather was perfect and attendees could not stop gushing about how much they enjoyed coming to Cleveland. When that was done, sports fans shifted their attention to the Cleveland Indians, who made a run all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before falling in extra innings to the Chicago Cubs.
All that positive energy coming out of Gateway Plaza has created a tremendous platform for the Cavs organization to continue its great work in the community.
“We are fortunate that we have a pole position where we can help affect change and lift the community as we work with so many other great partners,” Komoroski says.
“With a brighter spotlight, it breeds responsibility. The question is what do you do with that opportunity? Our team members have embraced that and frankly, it’s provided immeasurable benefits to the community, as well as to our team members. They can all help affect the outcome of the city.”
A positive impact
Since opening in 1994, the presence of Quicken Loans Arena and the Cavaliers has benefited many community groups and nonprofit organizations throughout the Greater Cleveland area.
Since its inception, the Cavalier organization’s charitable arm, the Cavaliers Youth Fund, has made grants totaling over $23 million to deserving nonprofits and charitable groups. In addition, the Cavaliers have provided more than $19 million in community gifts and contributions for a number of nonprofit organizations, including Flashes of Hope, the United Way of Greater Cleveland and Habitat for Humanity.
With more than $40 million total in community, civic and charitable giving, combined with the personal contributions by Quicken Loans Arena and Cavaliers players, coaches and staff, a very wide range of local nonprofit organizations and charities have been positively impacted.
Most recently, the team distributed more than $750,000 to several local charitable organizations following the 2016 championship playoff run. The majority of the money was collected through admissions to road game watch parties, plus additional funds were raised through 50/50 raffles and auctions.
Philanthropy was a priority for the Cavs before Dan Gilbert arrived in 2005 and the effort has only been strengthened since he arrived in Cleveland.
“It’s just who we are culturally,” Komoroski says. “Community engagement is a contact sport. It’s not something where you can sit around and expect good things to happen. You have to get out and get engaged.”
Under the leadership of Holly Yanak, the Cavs’ community relations manager, and Alberta Lee, who leads the human resources department, Komoroski says the organization actively seeks out opportunities to continue to make Cleveland a better place to live and work.
“That’s one of the great things about being in a city like Cleveland versus New York,” Komoroski says. “New York is a great city, but your ability or your sense of your ability to make a difference in a place like New York is a little bit more daunting. In Cleveland, you can make a noticeable, meaningful difference.”
One effort Komoroski is particularly proud of is the Cavs participation in City Year, part of AmeriCorps. The Cavaliers Youth Fund has provided more than $250,000 to City Year for its afterschool program.
“The AmeriCorps team members from City Year are in the schools and at the schools for those afterschool programs serving as mentors, as tutors and helping them augment their school day and experience, putting them in a greater position to succeed,” Komoroski says. “In a lot of cases, it’s one student at a time. But the results continue to grow and expand.
“The number of kids graduating from Cleveland Metropolitan School District is growing,” he says. “You’re seeing kids who are engaged and getting stronger academically who are graduating and being able to move on to the next level. That’s great to see, especially when your school system and your future is predicated on your kids and getting them a proper education and putting them in a position to succeed. Here’s a program that directly plays a role in that outcome.”
Each year the Cavaliers are able to reach more than 100,000 children in Cleveland and across the Northeast Ohio region through the team’s many programs. Several of those focus on the importance of education at all levels, kindergarten through high school.
The Cavs coordinate reading initiatives in schools through “Read to Achieve;” recognize hardworking teachers and students with “Head of the Class,” “All-Star Kids” and “Straight ‘A’ All-Stars;” and partner with FirstMerit Bank to award college scholarships.
With health and wellness being another pillar of the Cavs’ community efforts, players, coaches and other staff can often be found leading kids through basketball clinics, talking about living a healthy lifestyle, and even practicing yoga with Cleveland-area kids thanks to the team’s “Fit as a Pro” initiative.
The team also hosts awareness nights at games throughout the season to help support important causes, including breast cancer, colon cancer and autism. In addition, the Cavs organization holds two major events each year to benefit The Children’s Tumor Foundation.
Understanding the positive influence they can have on youth and others in the Greater Cleveland community, Cavaliers players and coaches make an average of 200 community appearances each year, including hospital visits, serving meals to the less fortunate, distributing toys during the holidays and more. Players from the Cleveland Monsters and Cleveland Gladiators and members of the entertainment teams also average about 200 community appearances each year.
Just getting started
The Cavs were big on philanthropy before they won their first NBA title last summer and the increased visibility on the organization has only created more opportunities to help others. The playoff watch parties are a great example.
For a $5 charitable donation, fans could come to The Q and cheer on their team during road playoff games. And the experience they got was first class all the way.
“When you think of the NBA playoffs, we’re fortunate we’ve sold out 100 straight games at The Q,” Komoroski says. “It’s not an easy ticket to get. We work hard to provide as many opportunities as possible for all reaches of the community to have the opportunity to come to games.
“At the watch parties, we ran our entire game presentation. The lights out introduction, the theatrical nature of the introductions and throughout the game and the entertainment teams, whether it be the Cavalier Girls, the mascots or the Scream Team. The only thing missing was the team on the floor.
“Young families who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to come to a game or wouldn’t have access were able to come to the watch parties. I can’t tell you how many people we heard from who it was their first experience coming to The Q and how thrilled and excited they were to be part of it. The energy in the building for those games was as if the games were being played here.”
Komoroski has worked in a number of cities throughout his career in the professional sports and entertainment world. But he says Cleveland is tops when it comes to its commitment to philanthropy.
“When you start to couple the positive impacts from an economic or development end, that adds to the momentum of Cleveland as a whole,” he says.
“Then you unleash a culture of commitment to the community with team members across not only the Cavs and The Q, but also with our other sister companies. When we’re all working together to make a difference in the community, it’s pretty powerful. We feel like we’re just getting started.” ●
How to reach: Cleveland Cavaliers, (216) 420-2000 or www.nba.com/cavaliers