Huntington Insights: Cleveland | Business Spotlight | Spring 2018

Supporting the Cavaliers & Quicken Loans Arena

How Len Komoroski helped remake the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena

By Anthony Castrovince

The ping pong ball that would land the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft had not yet bounced the team’s way in March 2003. Just a few months before a perfect alignment of hardwood happenstance would match Akron, Ohio, phenom LeBron James with his hometown team, Len Komoroski became president of a club whose status at that time Komoroski would later describe as “the fourth team in a three-team market.”

This was long before the Cavaliers became one of the hottest tickets in town. Long before they were a fixture in the Finals. Long before the summer of 2016 and a downtown parade for the ages.

"We had the worst record in the league,” Komoroski says. "We were last in attendance and last in revenue. A lot of people in the industry were going, ‘Why would you even consider that?"

Komoroski, 58, has no regrets about his decision to leave a stable situation with the Philadelphia Eagles for an uncertain one with the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization. No, he’s not a household name, and he hasn’t registered a single point on the court, but in his 15 years in Cleveland, Komoroski, who today is CEO, has been a pivotal point man in the organization. The Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization -- which includes the Lake Erie Monsters, Cleveland Gladiators and Canton Charge -- has become one of the most prosperous sports and entertainment groups in the country.

You could say he got here the hard way, opting for the trick shots over the layups in life. “The more challenging, the better,” he says. “I think that’s been a guiding light throughout my career.”

Len Komoroski,CEO, Cavaliers/Quicken Loans Arena
Len Komoroski,CEO, Cavaliers/Quicken Loans Arena (Photography by Toby Shingleton)

Team spirit

Duquesne University didn’t have a sports management program when Komoroski attended in the early 1980s, so he created his own. The Pittsburgh school’s location steps from the since-demolished Civic Arena emboldened Komoroski to walk in the door one day and ask if the Major Indoor Soccer League team, the Pittsburgh Spirit, needed an unpaid intern.

“Whatever they asked me to do, I was going to do the best I could,” he says.

Spirit had a small staff, so Komoroski quickly took on an array of responsibilities. Not long after graduation, the Spirit offered him a full-time job as public relations director, and his career in sports was off and running, even if the Spirit -- and the MISL as a whole -- were not long for this world.

The creativity it took to entice people to watch indoor soccer proved a forerunner of the in-game entertainment now provided by teams like the Cavs.

“We had lights-out introductions, flame-throwers, fog machines, laser light shows, dance teams, crazy halftimes … everything short of human sacrifice,” Komoroski says. “Just a lot of fun. And we had a blank canvas to do whatever it took to get people excited about our team.”

People took notice of Komoroski’s work, and that led to other opportunities, including an offer to become the PR director with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- the team he grew up rooting for. It was a dream job, but he turned it down for a riskier role as assistant general manager with the start-up Minnesota Strikers of the North American Soccer League -- bypassing the safe situation for one where he felt he could make a greater impact.

"I would liken it to a mountain climber,” he says. “The higher the peak, the more phenomenal the journey.”

Komoroski continued to climb the sports ladder. He worked for the Miller Brewing Co.’s sports marketing arm, giving him insight into the sponsorship side of the business. He was one of the first employees of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves. And he even had a prior stop in Cleveland as senior vice president and COO of the International Hockey League’s Cleveland Lumberjacks.

All of this pointed Komoroski toward Philadelphia, where in 1996 he became the senior vice president and chief of business operations for the NFL’s Eagles, which at that time were playing the now demolished Veterans Stadium and practicing at a less than adequate facility.

"Our players had to practice in a caged field in the middle of a parking lot,” he says. “When we recruited free agents, we didn’t even take them to our facilities. And we didn’t have a business staff to speak of."

That all changed over Komoroski’s seven years with the team. He built a business operations staff and oversaw franchise-altering moves to a new training facility and a state-of-the-art stadium.

“We went through an amazing journey in Philadelphia,” he says.

"If there’s one thing I always try to put forth, it’s, ‘Work hard with a terrific attitude.’ If you always have that natural curiosity in life and work to make a difference, amazing things can happen."– Len Komoroski, CEO, Cavaliers/Quicken Loans Arena

Fast break for success

A new journey awaited Komoroski with the Cavaliers, a team in need of a renaissance of their own. Between the lottery selection of James and Dan Gilbert’s purchase of the team from Gordon Gund just two years after Komoroski came aboard, things changed fast, including the hiring of sports marketing professionals in the front office, a revamp of the team’s communications efforts, an overhaul of the in-arena game experience and the securing of a state-of-the-art practice facility.

“We were able to recruit a terrific team of leaders and change the culture very early on,” Komoroski says. “We were fortunate to win the [2003] lottery, and that helped greatly accelerate everything we were looking to do. And Dan [Gilbert] has provided us with a platform to innovate and create and continue to strive to be the best we can be -- not just on the court, but beyond that, how we can help lift Cleveland as a community and make a positive impact.”

The impact was especially striking in the historic summer of 2016. It began with the Monsters hoisting the Calder Cup at the Q when they won the championship. Then the Cavaliers, in defeating the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, did what no team had done since 1964 in bringing a major sports championship to Cleveland. An estimated 1.3 million people packed downtown for the parade, and the city was in the limelight again the following month, when the Republican National Convention came to town -- with Quicken Loans Arena serving as the epicenter.

“People were dreading all the negative things that might happen -- the tribulations and protests,” says Komoroski, who is chairman of the board of Destination Cleveland and who played a leadership role in securing Cleveland as the RNC host site. “It turned out to be a love letter to Cleveland. The whole world was illuminated to what a phenomenal city we have.”

Komoroski has made his mark on the city, serving on the boards of directors for the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, the Cleveland State University Foundation and the Cleveland chapters of the American Red Cross and United Way.

The Cavs’ successes on the court, meanwhile, have translated into a top-two finish in average attendance each of the last four NBA seasons. Beyond that, the franchise has been nominated for Sports Business Journal’s coveted Sports Team of the Year Award three times in the last decade. And in 2017, Quicken Loans Arena built on its status as the host site for the 2016 Republican National Convention by having its highest-ever concert and event attendance, according to Pollstar.

Now, the 24-year-old arena is undergoing a major renovation project that Komoroski helped spearhead. The Q Transformation is designed to make the building more modern, visitor-friendly and competitive with arenas across the country for major events. The first phase of construction began in February.

“We are able to do it in a way that was financially responsible with the community and our public partners,” Komoroski says. “The flow of the building and the lack of public space were weaknesses, and that’s all going to be remedied.”

Komoroski has played a major role in remedying what was an ailing franchise 15 years ago. “I’m really fortunate,” Komoroski says. “If there’s one thing I always try to put forth, it’s, ‘Work hard with a terrific attitude.’ If you always have that natural curiosity in life and work to make a difference, amazing things can happen.”

“Dynamic situations occur all the time, and Huntington is incredibly responsive and flexible in trying to address our needs and challenges and coming back with solutions.” –Len Komoroski, CEO, Cavaliers/Quicken Loans Arena

An assist from Huntington

A successful sports franchise not only needs chemistry on the court or field but also off it. Because teams operate with significant revenue streams and outlays, it is important to have a bank they can count on, and Cavaliers/Quicken Loans Arena CEO Len Komoroski credits Huntington with this key assist.

“Dynamic situations occur all the time, and Huntington is incredibly responsive and flexible in trying to address our needs and challenges and coming back with solutions,” says Komoroski. “There’s no better testimony to how people respond than when a challenge arises, and they’ve time and time again stepped up and found ways to overcome.”

The Cavaliers’ front offices prioritizes community involvement and a culture in which employees are encouraged to say yes before no, and to be open-minded to new ideas and embracing of creativity. Komoroski says Huntington has proven itself to also believe in those ideals.

“Huntington fits our culture so seamlessly,” Komoroski says. “They embody ‘yes before no’ in just trying to find a way to make things work. We believe in doing well by doing good and making a positive impact, and Huntington is a leader in small business loans and helping the community. Those types of shared values make good institutions.”

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