Home Sports What Cleveland lacks in 'swagger,' it's making up for by showing off 'incredible assets' during MLB All-Star events – Crain's Cleveland Business

What Cleveland lacks in 'swagger,' it's making up for by showing off 'incredible assets' during MLB All-Star events – Crain's Cleveland Business

13 min read

The weather, for once, couldn’t be better.

The Home Run Derby at Progressive Field on Monday night, July 8, was one we won’t forget.

Play Ball Park has been a hit with every visitor with whom we’ve spoken.

As the finale of five days of MLB All-Star events looms — Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic — Cleveland’s latest turn as a big-time host seems to be going as well as could be expected.

Monday, we saw quite a bit of crowing — in a good way — on social media from Northeast Ohioans who loved what they were seeing from the city prior to and during the Home Run Derby. David Gilbert, the president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland, would like to see a lot more of that.

“What we know is, walking downtown, it makes you realize we’ve got such incredible assets here,” Gilbert said during an interview with Mike McIntyre on “The Sound of Ideas” on Tuesday morning. “We compare ourselves to what Indianapolis is doing, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati and others. We have as much or better assets than every one of those cities. People being here and walking around downtown, they’re seeing it. We were at an event and the lieutenant governor (Jon Husted) said something yesterday. I loved the way he put it: He said the biggest thing Cleveland is lacking in its own success is some swagger. I think that’s right.”

We were also a guest on McIntyre’s radio show on WCPN-FM, 90.3. During the program, a listener named Brian called in to respond to Gilbert’s comments about swagger. Brian, it seemed, has plenty of it and wanted to know what he could do to help the perception of his hometown.

Gilbert’s response: “We need many more Brians talking about their city. The biggest thing Clevelanders can do is to do what he said: Talk about and put out there what they love about their city.”

McIntyre, being the veteran journalist he is, asked some smart questions of Gilbert. Cleveland gets a bunch of positive media coverage from events such as the MLB All-Star Game (especially when Mother Nature is so cooperative), but what comes of that, McIntyre asked. How does that parlay into something better for the community?

“I think it’s two(fold),” Gilbert said. “One, you mentioned: In terms of meetings, conventions, growth of our travel and tourism industry — you can trace back much of that back to our hosting of RNC (in 2016), to events like this that people see our community firsthand. I also think this community is battling back from 50, 60 years of some tough times. It’s not going to happen overnight. But things like this make a critical, critical difference. When there are people thinking of moving to Cleveland, investing in Cleveland, we have lots of research that shows their visiting here, their being here, makes more of a difference than anything else they would see in terms of their perception of Cleveland.

“We talk about we have a lot of people come to town,” Gilbert continued. “They’re all first dates. And the key is how do you translate some of those first dates into long-term relationships? We talk about population loss and talent attraction, things like that. Things like this and the ones that follow play a huge, huge role in our ability to battle back in some of those areas that have seen Cleveland in a slow decline.”

We’ve written quite a bit about the efforts of Gilbert and the sports commission to bring big-time events to Northeast Ohio. The MLB All-Star Game will be followed in 21-plus months by the NFL draft, then by the 2022 NBA All-Star Game and the 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The MLB showcase, at an estimated $65 million, doesn’t have the projected economic impact of the NFL draft and NBA All-Star Game, but Gilbert told us recently that its outcome is “fairly predictable” because the MidSummer Classic is a ticketed event that will produce 40,000 to 50,000 combined room nights at local hotels.

Monday — with East 4th Street packed with visitors, Play Ball Park a flurry of activity and the Home Run Derby filled with fans wearing gear from a bunch of major-league teams — was a quality example of the activity these types of events can generate.

Six NFL executives have been in town the last couple days taking in the MLB All-Star festivities, Gilbert said. Their timing, like the sports commission’s current luck with the weather, is pretty good.

“They’re looking around at the city during all this to get some better ideas of what they might do with the draft,” Gilbert said on “Sound of Ideas.” “This is a really proud moment for us to be on the national stage, to look the way we do, for people who knock Cleveland because they haven’t been here … when they see it for themselves, it’s been universal to hear people talk about what an amazing city they’re seeing. There’s a lot to be capitalized on with all of those things for our future.”

That doesn’t mean Cleveland, as McIntyre pointed out during the show, is issue-free. Far from it.

Locals, McIntyre said, might be hesitant to gloat about downtown because neighborhoods are hurting.

“There’s no doubt about it. We have big-city problems like every big city,” Gilbert said. “But people talk about how wonderful Seattle is and San Francisco is — great cities. They have bigger problems than we do. It’s not glossing over it. We’ve been, for way too long, ‘woe is us’ about everything Cleveland. You think about now, with the impact of social media, how every one of us can directly and immediately get to thousands and thousands of people that we know. If it’s just reaching out about what you love about Cleveland — I don’t care what it is. It could be shiny stuff downtown, it could be your favorite neighborhood bar. Put it out there and let friends and family know. Take that and multiply it by two million people in the region. While we’ve tended at times to be our own worst enemy, we can also be our own best friend by, as a community, putting out there what we love best.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in that approach.

The Cavs’ 2016 championship put an end to some of the “woe is us” mentality that was far too prevalent.

But Northeast Ohio isn’t as self-assured as Gilbert and others would like it to be. There are plenty of good reasons for that, but occasions such as the MLB All-Star Game are a reminder that it’s OK to be proud of the region, while still aware that there are a bunch of things it can do better.

And when it comes to taking another turn as a prime-time host, Cleveland has proven to be more than up to the task.

You can follow me on Twitter for sports information, analysis and random stats about where the combined salaries of the Home Run Derby semifinalists would rank among all MLB players. (An aside: We’ve criticized MLB for the ways in which it promotes its players, but baseball did a very smart thing by giving up-and-comers such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a chance to compete in the Home Run Derby.)

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