SBJ/20090511/One-on-One

Komoroski presides over Cavs’ success on and off the court

In his sports business odyssey, Cleveland Cavaliers/Quicken Loans Arena President Len Komoroski has made successful stops at numerous teams across several professional leagues.

He set out in 1982 with the Major Indoor Soccer League’s expansion Pittsburgh Spirit, moved on to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and was back in the MISL in 1985 with the Minnesota Strikers. Komoroski then worked for two years for Miller Brewing Co.’s marketing arm. He played a major startup role with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Target Center, returned to Cleveland in 1994 as COO of the International Hockey League’s Lumberjacks, spent seven years as senior vice president and chief of business operations for the Philadelphia Eagles, and joined the Cavs in April 2003. With a major assist from then-rookie LeBron James, the Cavs went on to establish record increases in attendance, TV and radio ratings, and merchandise sales.

Komoroski spoke with SportsBusiness Journal New York bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh in advance of the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Favorite pieces of music: “Jungleland,” by Bruce Springsteen; “The Last Resort,” by the Eagles.
Favorite vacation spot: Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Favorite book: “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand.
Favorite quote: Robert Frost’s “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Favorite movies: “Caddyshack,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Waterboy,” and “Rudy.”
Last book read: “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life,” by Alice Schroeder.
Earliest sports memory: I grew up a big hockey fan in Pittsburgh and always wanted to go to a game. On my 10th birthday, my father took me and our family to a Penguins game in 1970. Back then, the Penguins weren’t very good and lost 4-0 to the Rangers. At the end of the game, my father, who wasn’t a big hockey fan then but became one over time because of my passion and my brother’s, said, “And you wanted to come to this for your birthday?!”
Most influential: Tim Leiweke taught me at a young age in this business that anything is possible, and Dan Gilbert taught me the value of a relentless entrepreneurial spirit.


Do you have a basic management philosophy?
Komoroski:
Find great, passionate people who are obsessed with finding a better way and bind them together with a common culture and vision that they all help build and realize.

That could apply to the Cavaliers, who had the best record in the NBA this season.
Komoroski:
With Mike Brown, we have a coach who continues to preach “One game at a time.” And my partner on the basketball side, [GM] Danny Ferry, gets it from a business perspective. As a result, both the business and basketball arms of our organization have worked seamlessly as one.  

Things look pretty good off the court: the highest local regular-season TV ratings for any NBA team in more than a decade.
Komoroski:
What we’ve seen is a continued growth and deepening interest in the team, not only within our television market, our DMA [designated market area], but also within our region every year. It’s been exciting to see, whether it’s been ratings or unique visitors on the Web site.

The team looks strong in other areas: merchandise and attendance, for example.
Komoroski:
We’re third in the league in merchandise sales. When you look at different measures of interest, whether it be TV or Web or merch — things that are indicative of a broader interest, certainly beyond sellouts at the arena — it’s been extremely strong at levels that are very high. And considering the size of our market — we’re the 17th-largest TV market — that does speak to a widening amount of interest.

At the World Congress of Sports in April, Tim Leiweke said, “We have to be realistic to the fact that in sports, buys are made six months, 12 months, years in advance, and I don’t think we’ve seen the impact yet because so many of our buys and so much of our revenue came early.” What implications will the economy have on the NBA next season?
Komoroski:
The NBA is as well positioned as any league to be able to deal with that, and it’s really because the infrastructure is in place and our teams have embraced the culture of best practices and innovation with their daily mantra. It’s like anything else: When you put the infrastructure in place and you continue to place focus and resources in any area, your ability to develop exponentially in those areas only is heightened. That’s what’s happened with the NBA.

Komoroski says that the Cavaliers’ and
LeBron James’ goals are unified toward
winning NBA championships.

What about the economy’s effect on the Cavs next season?
Komoroski:
People are making commitments for season tickets. We’ve had very strong season-ticket renewals coupled with new season-ticket sales, where we’re first in the league. So, we’ve seen an endorsement by the marketplace that, despite the challenges of the economy and what’s been happening here in northeast Ohio, they’re excited about the direction of the franchise and what’s happening here and they want to be part of it.

The Cavs have frozen ticket prices for next season. Any other basketball decisions being driven by the economy?
Komoroski:
Dan Gilbert has provided our franchise with the resources to compete at the highest level, despite our midmarket status. We had the third-highest payroll in the league this season, for example. As far as the season-ticket holders, and in recognition of the circumstances going on out there, Dan’s whole premise is covered by, “What’s the right thing to do?” And that’s been a fundamental aspect of our overall success here.

For the last two years, there have been stories speculating about NBA teams trying to clear cap space in order to make a run at LeBron James when his contract expires after next season. How much of a distraction is that?
Komoroski:
We feel that our franchise’s goals and LeBron’s goals are unified in that we’re both working toward the same thing: winning NBA championships. That’s what drives us on a day-to-day basis. We’re focused on creating a championship-caliber culture throughout our organization. Mike Brown does an unbelievable job of keeping our players focused on the next game, and that’s it. We follow the lead of our team as far as trying to create a consistency in the messaging to the community because it’s so important in our ultimate success.

If you could change one thing about the game, what would it be?
Komoroski:
[The NBA has] a rule that mandates that white jerseys are worn at home. From our ideal world, it would be the option of the home team as to what jersey is worn at home, a la the NFL, where the team can choose more or less what it wants to have presented to its fans.

Bill Veeck wrote, “Nothing beats a well-told tale.” What is the best, or most interesting, story in sports these days?
Komoroski:
First of all, Bill Veeck is the godfather of what sports should be about, which is entertainment. He has a tremendous heritage here in Cleveland, and his son Mike has picked up right where his father left off. But the one thing that will be interesting here as it evolves is what happens on multiple league fronts with the CBA discussions.

Look for more of this conversation in our sister publication, SportsBusiness Daily, located at www.sportsbusinessdaily.com.

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