Child’s play

Dave Gilbert admits that the idea of a sports commission in a community is not new. The first sports commission was formed more than 20 years ago in San Diego, and since then, hundreds of cities have joined in the effort to attract sporting events to their communities as a means to fill hotel rooms.

But Gilbert, who resurrected the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission in 1999, is doing something his peers in other cities are not — offering true partnership opportunities to sporting organizations.

“We found that people are looking for strong partners,” Gilbert says. “Whether they’re the Olympic Committee, the NCAA or local people representing their sport, they’re looking for people who can make their event more successful.”

Witness the recent International Children’s Games in Cleveland, the first time the event has taken place in the United States. Not only did it pour millions of dollars into Northeast Ohio and raise the international visibility of Cleveland, it also required the GCSC to forge strong partnerships with the games, the regional community and business leaders to make it successful.

When Gilbert left the Convention and Visitors Bureau to spark new life into the sports commission — which was founded in 1993 but had been disbanded, leaving only its tax ID number — his business plan focused on three elements that were not being incorporated at other sports commissions.

First, GCSC partners with sports organizations and event rights holders instead of serving just as a market recruiting organization.

Explains Gilbert, “We join as a management and financial partner. That provides both parties with incentive to assure that the events held in Cleveland are more successful than in other cities.”

Second, GCSC takes calculated risks.

“We have had a financial involvement in more than 20 of the 50 events we’ve done,” Gilbert says. “We’ve leveraged our small budget by taking risks on events that other communities may buy. You have to look at each event as a deal and measure your risk and risk tolerance, then develop a business plan for each event and determine how you’re going to generate the revenue.”

Those two elements lead to Gilbert’s third goal — use sporting events as a tool for economic and community development.

“It’s not just filling hotel rooms,” he says. “It’s also about how you get different organizations and constituencies feeding off each other.” HOW TO REACH: Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, (216) 621-0600 or