FIELDHOUSE OF DREAMS: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse underwent a $185 million renovation completed in 2019, with high-profile events coming up like the 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four. (Courtesy Venue)
Home of NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Maintains Its Ascent
Cleveland’s NBA home court continues to ramp up its modernization efforts, supported by a “high-seven-figure” investment to renovate green rooms, artist dressing rooms and the visiting teams’ locker rooms at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Phase one of construction, fully funded by the team, is set to be completed by Oct. 1 in time for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2023-24 season. The behind-the-scenes touches follow an extensive $185 million renovation completed in 2019 that touched on most public-facing aspects of the 18,000-seat facility.
“We’ve made a strategic decision over a five-year master plan coming out of that transformation to continue to invest in the building,” said Nic Barlage, who last year was named CEO of the Cavaliers, Rock Entertainment Group, the team’s parent company, and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Last summer, two bars were added to the venue’s club level, and this summer a sports book and revamped team store were added.
“Now, we’re in a phase where we’re focused on the entertainers’ experience. It’s always been a priority of ours to make sure that we put Cleveland’s best foot forward when we’re bringing in nationally and internationally acclaimed acts to northeast Ohio. We want it to be a world-class experience,” Barlage said. He says the concept of the renovation is versatility, being able to accommodate visiting teams as well as high-profile one-off events, with the ability to configure spaces depending on need while offering high-end finishes and amenities akin to a five-star resort.
The arena hosts the NCAA Women’s Final Four in college basketball in April 2024, among the future events driving the additional upgrades.
“A big reason for us doing it this summer is the Women’s Final Four,” said Barlage. “It’s become an incredible supernova of an event and we want to make sure these athletes have an incredible experience when they’re here.”
The arena has reached out for input on the renovations from industry consultants, with Cavaliers ownership seeing a clear need for the upgrades.
“The artist corridors had not been touched, and they’ve been in existence since the arena opened in 1994,” said Antony Bonavita, executive vice president of venue operations for the Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. “While our team does a good job of treating the artists, the agencies and the promoters well, the spaces were what they were. Our organization is very good about supporting that we needed to make this investment. I feel good about it. Our team has a lot of good ideas about how to make the spaces be interchangeable and comfortable.”
Bonavita says arena staff are currently working around construction, making use of alternate spaces while the work is done.
Populous is the architect for the back-of-house renovations , with Whiting-Turner serving as construction manager and more than 12 contractors involved in the project. More than half (52%) of construction costs are going to minority owned, female-owned and small businesses, Bonavita said.
The improvements continue after the success of the renovation of 2019, completed shortly before the pandemic hit the U.S. Those improvements included a new atrium, hospitality areas, greater ceiling height on the concourse, which all told, added 55,000 square feet to the building.
Bonavita notes a recent sellout from country artist Zach Bryan that broke an attendance record for a concert at the venue with 19,000 tickets sold, helped by a standing-room-only configuration on the floor. Bonavita said that show was also one of the arena’s top-grossing events all time on the food and beverage side, with per caps at $31.56. Aramark runs food service at the arena.
Upcoming concerts include lounge crooner Barry Manilow to high-flying pop artist Pink to rapper Trippie Redd.
“The fan feedback has been unbelievable,” said Barlage, who replaced Len Komoroski as CEO. “It is like having a new facility at a fraction of the cost and it’s allowed our fans to have an incredible experience. The 2023-24 year will be one of our top five busiest years on record when you look at concerts and games,” he said. “Ticket sales are up about 33% year over year when we look at concerts and otherevents. We’re on a 55-game sellout streak on the Cavs side right now and the Lake Erie Monsters led the AHL in attendance this past season, which is the second time we’ve done that in the last four years. The transformation put us in a top tier in regard to arena experiences.”
Bonavita says the arena is a reflection of the strength of Cleveland as a whole, and says he is proud and confident that, thanks to investment and hard work, the venue will always be in the discussion for major events.
“Cleveland’s shown that you don’t always have to be in the biggest markets, but we as an organization, and obviously the city and the county, have stepped up,” says Bonavita, who along with Barlage credited Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert with the vision and support to continue investing in the arena.
“Over the past two years, the team has put an additional $25 million into the building and we’ll continue to because we have to,” Bonavita said. “This is our business, it’s our responsibility, we’re good partners and we’re going to continue to be good partners. I’m very fortunate to work for an organization that allows us to do that.”