Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has hosted almost 50 events since the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to the NBA season in March.
It hasn’t been the usual array of professional basketball and hockey games. Also absent have been the concerts and big-name touring acts that often made the FieldHouse one of the 50 busiest arenas in the world.
Instead, it’s been a scaled-down collection of youth basketball and hockey clinics, small gatherings for corporate partners and season-ticket holders, as well as blood drives and a voter registration event. There’s even been yoga on the Gateway Plaza.
“It definitely feels a bit different,” said Brooke Bockelman, the vice president of booking and events for the Cavs and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Bockelman was hired in April 2019. Eleven months later, the FieldHouse was shut down for months.
Beginning in July, the Cavs slowly opened things back up, with the emphasis on small, safe events geared toward youth and community impact.
The vast majority of the gatherings have been basketball and hockey clinics.
There are shooting clinics in which 10 to 15 kids, each accompanied by one guardian, participate in competitions on the court at the FieldHouse. Everyone wears a mask.
“For a lot of these kids, the most exciting part is being on the court that the players they love so much are on,” Bockelman said. “The building is empty around them, but it’s still a pretty cool experience to play in front of the scoreboard and stuff like that.”
The hockey clinics are for beginners and played with a street hockey ball. Kids learn how to hold a stick, shoot and pass.
The events aren’t big money-makers, and they require quite a bit of work to meet all the pandemic protocols.
The skills and shooting clinics cost $50, and participants receive a Cavs Academy shirt, basketball and tickets to a future Cavs home game. The maximum capacity for the skills events is 30, and the hockey clinics are capped at 40.
“We really want to be cautious and make sure everyone feels safe and just ease into things so that we can learn from them,” Bockelman said.
What the Cavs find out — from how customers enter and move around the building, to what makes them feel comfortable and what might make them uneasy — will be valuable once the gatherings are expanded into the hundreds.
The Department of Health’s Responsible RestartOhio guidelines limit the Cavs to a crowd of 300 at the FieldHouse. The Cavs, as the Browns did in hosting crowds of about 6,000 at each of their first two home games, could apply for a variance, but that would depend on the type of event that is being pitched by an organization or promoter, Bockelman said.
For now, though, the Cavs and Cleveland Monsters are content to continue along their current path and await word from the NBA and American Hockey League.
The NBA season likely won’t tip off until at least January, commissioner Adam Silver said on Sept. 22. The AHL, meanwhile, pushed back the start of its season to Dec. 4 — a date that, like everything else in 2020, is subject to change.
And even if the two leagues begin play early in 2021, it’s likely attendance will be limited and the list of protocols will be longer than the Cavs’ draft history.
“It’s a big puzzle that once the leagues are able to give us some scheduling answers will start to fall into place and become more clear,” Bockelman said.
At the midway point of 2019, the FieldHouse rose to No. 27 in Pollstar’s list of the world’s busiest arenas. The trade publication’s rankings don’t include sports events, which account for about two-thirds of the organization’s ticket sales.
Now, safely accommodating a crowd in the double digits feels like a win.
“The next six to 12 months are going to be super interesting,” Bockelman said. “We’re going to continue to remain focused on health and safety. We’re not going to stop doing these small events anytime soon because we have been successful with that.”