Cavaliers CMO Tracy Marek's Journey From Yankee Stadium to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse

How a military child, always on the move, found a home in the sports world

Tracy Marek is chief marketing officer for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and their arena, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. She joined the Cavaliers organization in 2003 and oversees all aspects of brand and creative development, digital marketing, social media, fan engagement, advertising, promotions, graphic design, retail merchandise, game entertainment and video production for the organization.

In addition, Tracy and her team also also support marketing for the Cleveland Monsters (AHL hockey) and the Canton Charge (NBA G-League franchise operated by the Cavaliers), and she works in partnership with the executive leadership team on overall strategic planning for the organization as a whole.

Recent highlights include leading many major fan-facing campaigns, such as the Cavaliers's 2016 NBA championship parade and rally, and championship ring and banner ceremony; the Cavs' 50th season celebration in 2019-20; and the transformation of Quicken Loans Arena into the new Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Prior to joining the Cavaliers, Tracy was vp of business operations for the Fort Wayne Wizards, the Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, for three seasons.

We spoke with Tracy for our Time-Out series, where we chat with folks in the sports world about their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and shows, and their love of sports generally.


Tracy, tell us... 

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

My father was a career Air Force officer, which makes me a career military child. We moved every few years my entire upbringing, with each move including a flight over an ocean. I was born in Baltimore and lived on the island of Oahu in Hawaii; San Antonio, Texas; Augsburg, Germany; Hahn US Air Force Base in Germany; as well as Fairfax, Virginia when my father worked at the Pentagon. I attended Boston University, and I currently live in Lakewood, Ohio, right outside of Cleveland.

Your earliest sports memory.

I lived in Europe during middle school, and I was able to come back to the U.S. for two weeks to visit with family, which was a very special opportunity. The day before we returned to Germany, my aunt and uncle took me to a game at Yankee Stadium. I was living in overseas and had spent most of my childhood in Hawaii, so I had no real exposure to professional sports prior to this visit. My whole world changed as soon as I walked into the stadium and saw the field. I was obsessed with the atmosphere that sports provided and became avid about learning more about everything connected to sports from there. That moment is why I am in my role today.

Your favorite sports teams.

I grew up loving the New York Yankees because of how I was introduced to sports, as well as the Baltimore Orioles, as they were our closest Major League team when I was in high school. I loved the sense of community and the pride. Now that I work in the NBA, I must admit my favorite team is the Cleveland Cavaliers. I love and admire the true commitment our organization has to the fan experience, and the way the Cavaliers organization works to create an incredible atmosphere, be it in-arena, broadcast, digitally or even during a phone call. The fans truly come first here, and it has really impacted how I view all other customer service interactions I have in my day-to-day life.


Clio Sports and Bleacher Report are hosting a virtual B2B thought leadership event, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, on Oct. 28-29. Click here to learn more and to register.


Your favorite athlete.

Mary Lou Retton. She was a powerhouse and was full of pure energy. She showed me at a young age that girls could do anything, and that enthusiasm, personality and self-confidence are traits worth sharing.

Your favorite sports show or podcast.

Sports Business Journal Morning Buzzcast. It provides great quick hits of industry information that helps to get my day started during my morning walk. 

Your favorite sports movie.

The Natural starring Robert Redford. It really tugged at all my heartstrings as a child just as I was getting interested in baseball. Plus, part of it was filmed in my grandfather's hometown of Buffalo, New York, so he took me on a small tour of spots where they filmed, and it gave us some great moments to bond over.

A recent project you're proud of.

The transformation of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, which went through a two-year reconstruction process and formally reopened in September 2019. It was incredible to be a part of an organizational effort to transform our 25-year-old venue into a new, world-class, state-of-the-art arena at a significantly lower cost than a new construction, and with incredible results! The FieldHouse has transformed the skyline of downtown Cleveland and is the heartbeat of our city. My team had the opportunity to support the overall design vision, reimagine wayfinding, partner on the commissioned art project that flows throughout the entire venue, and to also help elevate the dynamic brand presence and heightened community connection that is heavily featured throughout the design of the venue.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

I have really admired how sports teams and venues have rallied together to define solutions to operating during the Covid-19 crisis, and how organizations have worked together to elevate the strength of our venues to make them safe for guests. Our own internal team here are Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has truly dedicated themselves to setting a standard for safety and has truly been as dedicated to helping others throughout the industry. There is a strong sense of teamwork in our business, and that is very inspiring to see. Our collective success will be even stronger due to this focus on collaboration.

What you love about sports generally.

I love the storylines that sports provide to us, and the many ways we can find inspiration and emotional connections through the "thrill of victory and the power of defeat." Sports can bring people together and also act as a reflection of the world around us, in good times and in challenging times. There is something unifying about sports, and it is very special.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the sports world.

If I didn't work in the sports world, I think I would work in a creative or events field. Possibly also integrating travel. Or I would be an international pop star … haha. Very unlikely since I can't sing, but I would have thought years ago that the role I have now would have been an impossible dream as well, and yet here I am. With a lot of hard work, a strong dose of luck and good timing, my career is proof that dreams do come true!

Time-Out is our new interview series where we chat with folks in the sports world about their creative inspirations, their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and more, and generally what sport means to them. For more about Time-Out, and our Clio Sports program, please contact Shawn Mosby.

 

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and founding editor of Muse by Clio. Prior to joining Clio in 2018, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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