Canton got the Cleveland Cavaliers minor league team last week instead of Youngstown, thanks to benefits in Canton Memorial Civic Center and long negotiations with team representatives.
The Cleveland Cavaliers made the same splash in announcing that their minor-league team would move to Canton that they make at games at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Thursday announcement bedazzled local officials with a display of gold- and wine-colored balloons, rock music, dancers, mascots and even portable basketball hoops, all to say that the Cavaliers would bring an NBA Development League team to the city-owned Memorial Civic Center.
But the event was the end of a long road. To get to that point took hours of discussions about scheduling, advertising and more; a series of meetings; and the ironing out of legal details.
And Canton had to compete against some other communities, including Youngstown.
Several factors have been credited for Canton’s ability to land the NBA-affiliated development-league franchise:
• Although the Memorial Civic Center is aged, it’s the right size for minor league basketball.
• It’s within easy driving distance of the Cavaliers’ practice facility in Independence and arena in Cleveland.
• The Cavaliers liked that their team would get priority for scheduling games.
• The company that manages the arena under contract with the city had established a professional relationship with high-ranking team officials.
Canton has had its share of minor league and semi-professional level sports teams, including soccer, indoor football and baseball. Some have succeeded. Others have struggled, or even bombed.
But not since the Canton-Akron Indians, a Major League Baseball affiliate that left in the mid-1990s, has the city scored a professional team with the fan appeal and credibility of the D-League franchise.
The Cavaliers first contacted the city through SMG, which manages the Civic Center, a few years ago about locating a D-League team at the facility. Those discussions never advanced beyond the preliminary stages, said Geoff Tompkins, general manager of the Civic Center and an SMG employee.
SMG is a Pennsylvania-based company that manages arenas across the country as well as outside the United States.
Then the idea of bringing professional basketball to Canton got rekindled a few months ago, and the Cavaliers contacted Mayor William J. Healy II, said Derek Gordon, a management assistant for the mayor.
YOUNGSTOWN AND CANTON
Canton would compete against other communities before landing the yet-to-be-named minor league basketball team.
Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said that his city had serious talks with Cavaliers officials about making his city’s Covelli Centre the team’s home.
“We had some pretty extensive discussions with the Cavs,” Williams said Thursday. “I have nothing but positive things to say about the organization.”
The Covelli Centre, built for $42 million and opened in 2005, had more to offer than the Civic Center in some ways.
Page 2 of 3 - It holds 5,900 people for basketball games, compared to about 4,300 at Canton’s older facility. The Civic Center dates to 1951, but has had upgrades since then. Amenities at the Covelli Centre are more modern, including 520 club seats and 26 luxury suites. Sixty televisions are located in the suites and throughout the facility.
But Williams said a deal with the Cavaliers did not materialize because of scheduling issues, particularly because the Youngstown Phantoms, part of the United States Hockey League, play at the Covelli Centre during basketball season.
The Cavaliers wanted their D-League team to be the center’s primary tenant, and Youngstown couldn’t deliver. The Cavaliers needed priority scheduling, which made it extremely difficult to work out an agreement, Williams said.
Eric Ryan, the Covelli Centre’s executive director, said he knew his facility had challenges that didn’t face the Memorial Civic Center.
About 75 percent of the Covelli Centre’s events occur during the hockey and basketball seasons, he said, and weekend dates are in demand for hockey and other entertainment.
“It was a better fit in Canton for those reasons,” Ryan said.
The market and building were not issues in Youngstown, he said, but hosting D-League games “would really handcuff the building.”
Williams said he’s happy for Canton.
“Canton and Youngstown might as well be sister cities (with) so many similarities and opportunities and challenges,” he said. “And if (Cleveland’s) D-league team was not going to play in Youngstown, I’m happy they’re playing in Canton.”
Gordon, the city of Canton employee in the mayor’s office, said the Healy administration did not “feel like we were battling Youngstown.”
“We just felt like we were trying to put the best deal out there for the Cavs,” he said.
The Civic Center, meanwhile, is the home facility of the Canton Cougars indoor football team, part of the Ultimate Indoor Football League. The Cougars and SMG previously agreed to renew the option for the 2011-2012 season. Football season will “cross over” with D-League games for at least two to three months, Tompkins said.
Under the agreement with the Cavaliers, SMG gives the basketball team at least 25 priority weekend dates during basketball season, which runs from November into April. The D-League team also will be the primary tenant.
Cavaliers officials said they considered opportunities for the development league franchise throughout the region. Although Northeast Ohio is considered the NBA team’s “backyard,” the franchise’s “geographic footprint” extends to western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and western New York, said Len Komoroski, team president.
Those areas were explored as possible sites for the D-league team, which will be owned and operated by the Cavaliers, he said.
Page 3 of 3 - Tompkins, the Civic Center manager, said Canton was selected because the venue was attractive to the D-League and the Cavaliers; the city was accommodating; and there was not a competing tenant in the facility.
“We worked tirelessly for quite a long time,” Tompkins said.
SMG’s enhanced management authority, which includes no city employees and thus permits greater flexibility, “absolutely” aided the negotiations, he said.
“SMG has a relationship with the Cavs at the highest levels, and I think that helped move things along,” Tompkins said.
But two key issues had to be hashed out before talks could advance to the finer details of an agreement between the Cavaliers and SMG and the city, Gordon said. They were advertising and renovations, and both were connected.
SMG agreed to relinquish control of advertising, allowing the Cavaliers to be the exclusive sales agent for naming rights and advertising. The team wanted renovations to the Civic Center, including improving locker rooms and bringing the court up to the standards of the NBA Development League.
When SMG yielded on advertising, that gave the Cavaliers the ability to spend advertising revenue on renovations. The team will get 100 percent of basketball-specific advertising income and a share of other advertising revenue. It will pay the city $100,000 a year for the exclusive advertising rights, which is about equal to the city’s current advertising revenue at the Civic Center.
Legal details also had to be ironed out between attorneys for SMG and the Cavaliers, delaying the public announcement.
‘CANTON ROSE TO THE TOP’
While Tompkins headed the negotiations for SMG, Gordon, the mayor’s assistant, also was heavily involved.
Daniel Reed, president of the NBA Development League, credited Gordon, Healy, Warren Price, the mayor’s chief of staff, and Tompkins for helping to put the agreement together.
“They’ve been marvelous to work with and it’s a major reason why we’re so excited to be here,” Reed said at Thursday’s press conference. “We think this is going to be a fantastic market.”
Komoroski, the Cavaliers president, cited Healy and his staff, SMG and a “quality venue” as reasons for selecting Canton.
“The combination together, Canton rose to the top, and to that extent we’re thrilled to be here,” he said.
Komoroski described Canton as the “best overall situation.”