Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital located in Beachwood, is a renaissance man who appreciates intellectualism, philosophy, meditation, and yoga. But he is also a sports fan, and has a keen understanding of the value of sports in society. We sat down recently to talk to him about the importance of professional sports teams in the city of Cleveland, and about what having a professional hockey and soccer team would do for the economy and morale of the city.
Mary Kraven: Cleveland already boasts a trifecta of professional sports teams: The Cleveland Guardians in baseball, the Cleveland Cavaliers in basketball, and the Cleveland Browns in football. Why do you think that Cleveland needs a professional hockey and soccer team as well?
Adnan Zai: Look at any ice rink in the early morning hours before school, or any sunny Saturday at your local field. Kids in Cleveland are playing hockey and soccer at tremendous rates. It is time that they have a local pro team in their sport, rather than just always hearing about baseball, football, or basketball. The fan base for hockey and soccer is already here. Just like that famous line in “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.” With more people coming downtown these days, there are always Clevelanders looking to have a good time. Hockey and soccer teams would add to the fun and be good for business as well.
Mary Kraven: Well, there is no denying that sports teams bring in revenue, and as of 2022, Cleveland was the 10th biggest city in the country in terms of pro sports revenue, based on a study by sports betting company OLBG Tipsters. The city had a revenue of $1.1B, with the Guardians bringing in $267MM, the Cavaliers $325MM, and the Browns $510MM. New York is number one on the list ($1.9B), followed by Chicago ($1.8B), Los Angeles ($1.7B), and Arlington, Texas (1.5B). But Cleveland’s ranking is not too shabby.
Do you think that adding hockey and soccer would increase the city’s revenue, or simply dilute the fan base into more sports?
Adnan Zai: This city is filled with people who love Cleveland, and people who love their sports. There are plenty of resources to go around, and any time you bring people downtown you are building up the economy with spending in restaurants, bars, parking lots, hotels, etc. This could only be a positive for the city.
Mary Kraven: Cleveland has been up to now the largest market in the U.S. without professional soccer, but it looks like that fact is about to change, with the addition of an MLS NEXT Pro team in 2025. Cleveland Soccer Group co-founder Michael Murphy said, “Our group is committed to a long-term vision of supporting professional men’s and women’s teams. Bringing MLS NEXT Pro to Cleveland in 2025 is an incredibly important first step, and we’re especially excited about being able to showcase Cleveland professional soccer to the world as our games will be broadcast globally on Apple TV as part of the long-term broadcast rights deal with MLS.”
There is also a special member of CSG’s Advisory Board who is determined to bring professional soccer to Cleveland. Justin Morrow, MLS All-Star and U.S. Men’s National Team player who received All-American honors while playing at Saint Ignatius High School is ready for pro soccer in The Land. He was named MLS’ 2021 Humanitarian of the Year for founding Black Players for Change, an independent organization of over 170 coaches, players, and staff working to stop the racial equality gap, and he is bringing that same passion and enthusiasm to the cause of bringing pro soccer to Cleveland.
“Like most Clevelanders, my affinity for the city runs deep, and I’m committed to partnering with leaders like Michael and Nolan to have a positive impact,” said Morrow. “Having devoted most of my life to the game, I know that if we bring professional soccer to Cleveland with a ‘community-first’ mindset, it will bring about many positive changes to the region.”
How does this “community-first” mindset relate to your vision for soccer?
Adnan Zai: Soccer brings people together. It’s that simple. It is the number one sport around the globe, and loyalty to one’s favorite soccer team has forged more allegiances than can be believed. I have grown up playing, I taught my kids how to play and coached their teams, and I still play these days as an adult. Soccer builds community from the inside out, and like Morrow said, will bring many positive changes to the area.
Mary Kraven: Let’s talk hockey for a minute. The Cleveland Monsters, the former Lake Erie Monsters, have been around since 2007 and have been the top affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the National Hockey League since 2015. They are a very popular team, and lure fans in with their “College ID” nights and “Dollar Dog” nights and then have them coming back for more.
Chief Operating Officer Mike Ostrowski said it best: “In the first few years, we did a lot of educating people as to who we are and what the Monsters hockey experience is all about. Now they know. And we feel like, once we get people here, they want to come back and tell others to come back with them.” Do you think this can translate to an NHL team?
Adnan Zai: There is without a doubt a hockey fan base in Cleveland. And Clevelanders love to see their teams succeed. Having an NHL team would bring a lot of pride and excitement to the city. It would also bring a lot of business downtown, showcasing our beautiful city.
Mary Kraven: Thank you so much for your time today. Let’s hope you’ll be watching the NHL in Cleveland or experiencing an MLS game here sooner rather than later. As you said, it would be good for Cleveland!