By DAVID SKOLNICK
The Covelli Centre’s executive director says he’s talked with Cleveland Cavaliers and National Basketball Association Development League officials about bringing a Cavs-affiliated minor-league team to the Youngstown facility.
“Nothing is set in stone,” said Eric Ryan, the center’s executive director. “We’ve had discussions, but there’s no deal. We’re always exploring any opportunity that comes up. The D-League is a growing league and looking to expand.”
One obstacle, he said, is the NBA D-League season runs concurrent to the season of the United States Hockey League’s Youngstown Phantoms, an amateur hockey team that plays its home games at the Covelli Centre. The USHL’s regular season is between September and March, and the D-League’s regular season is between November and April.
Scheduling games for both teams “would be the challenge. It needs serious consideration,” Ryan said. “It’s also the busiest time” for the center for other events.
“It’s still very preliminary,” Ryan said. “They’re in the exploratory stage, and so are we.”
Ryan said Cavaliers officials contacted him about a month ago on bringing a team here.
The Phantoms’ contract with the city-owned center guarantees the hockey team will play at least two more seasons at the arena.
Bruce Zoldan, the Phantoms’ owner, said he wants his team to stay at the center even longer.
“I’m in it for the long haul,” he said.
Sharing the center with a D-League team “certainly could be an issue,” Zoldan said. “On the other hand, I’m looking out for the benefit of the Covelli Centre. I’d be interested in talking with the Cavs to work this out and to market jointly.”
Zoldan said a Cavaliers official left a telephone message for him recently, but he hadn’t returned the call as of Tuesday.
If the two teams work together to share advertising and sponsors as well as attract ticket holders while coordinating their schedules, both could succeed, Zoldan said.
“Operating in the same confines in my mind without cooperation and partnership would be problematic,” he said. “A fight for local sponsorships and local dollars with one team shop and one primary locker room” at the center would be a problem.
“A partnership would work,” Zoldan added.
Zoldan also said he’d “be very interested in a joint partnership” of the basketball team with the Cavs.
The Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors share a D-League franchise in Erie, Pa., called the BayHawks.
Tad Carper, senior vice president of communications for the Cavaliers, declined to comment on having a team in Youngstown.
In an email to The Vindicator, Carper wrote: “We have had a really good D-League experience through our affiliation with the Erie BayHawks over the last several seasons and we continue to place a premium on the player development process within our franchise and our culture. As a result of our very positive experience with Erie and our strong commitment to player development for the future, we are now in the process of reviewing and considering various options for us to operate our own D-League franchise versus just having an affiliation as we have had in the past. We’re keeping all options open at this point.”
Erie will have a D-League team next season, said Casey Wells, executive director of the Erie County Convention Center Authority, which oversees the Louis J. Tulio Arena in Erie, Pa., the home of the BayHawks. But he isn’t sure about the team’s NBA affiliation.
The NBA wants each of its 30 teams to have its own D-League team, said Wells and Ryan. There are currently 16 D-League teams.
When Youngstown was looking for a national firm to manage the center in early 2008, the Cavaliers Operating Co. submitted a joint proposal with International Facilities Group of Chicago. As part of its proposal, the Cavs and IFG officials said there would be a Cavaliers’ D-League team for the facility in 2009.
But the Cavs and IFG pulled out of the running in March 2008 when the city insisted Ryan, then-interim executive director of the center, remain on staff on a full-time basis. The city selected SMG over Global Spectrum in May of that year.