After a rousing start with the new “Getting to Know You…” series with the Cleveland Indians’ Bobby Hoekstra, we’re back at it today in “While We’re Waiting… .” We continue with another Q&A with an individual involved in the Ohio sports industry.
This week: Kevin Kleps of Crain’s Cleveland. Kevin is a long-time friend of WFNY. He’s been on the WFNY podcast with Craig Lyndall, and we both love talking about baseball attendance numbers (such as this 2014 Akron RubberDucks article in Crain’s). You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinKleps and on Instagram at @kkleps.
WFNY: How did you get started in the sports journalism industry?
Kevin Kleps: I wrote a few sports columns for the student newspaper at Edinboro University, which led to an internship at The Meadville Tribune. As an intern at a small daily newspaper, they actually let me cover Steelers home games, gave me a column, and sent me all over Northwest Pennsylvania to cover high school football.
That was the best experience a wannabe writer could have gotten, and it led to a full-time job there after my internship was up. From there, I went to The News-Herald in Willoughby (first as an editor and writer, and later as the assistant sports editor) and then to Crain’s. I’ve been the assistant editor and sports business reporter for Crain’s Cleveland since the start of 2013.
WFNY: Where are you from originally?
Kevin Kleps: Erie, Pennsylvania.
WFNY: What high school and university did you attend?
Kevin Kleps: Strong Vincent High School in Erie and the great Edinboro University (or as I call it, the Harvard of Pennsylvania).
WFNY: Tell us about your childhood sports fandom.
Kevin Kleps: This is going to sound incredibly lame, but bear with me since I didn’t grow up in Browns-Cavs-Indians territory. Erie has a unique blend of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo fans, but it’s mostly a Steelers town — and I became a big fan at an early age.
When I was a kid, cable TV was kinda new (sad, I know), and the thought of the Cubs being on WGN when I got home from school every day was pretty darn cool. The combination of Harry Caray, Steve Stone, Andre Dawson, Jody Davis, Ryne Sandberg, etc., led to an early love of the Cubs. Maybe it was all the losing — or I just got bored with it — but that didn’t last past high school. (Yes, I was hoping the Indians would win the 2016 World Series.)
I also rooted for the Lakers because Magic Johnson was my favorite player (Hey, I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s), and was a big Georgetown hoops fan (Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Allen Iverson!). Again, I realize this all sounds pretty terrible to most sports fans in Northeast Ohio, but I’ve lived here almost 19 years and really enjoy watching the Cavs and Indians on a near-nightly basis (my daughter is a HUGE fan of both), and I’d love almost nothing more than the Browns getting, and staying, good. The joy that would bring fans around here would be so well-deserved.
WFNY: So when exactly did you become a Cleveland sports fan?
Kevin Kleps: So, by 1999, the Browns had just come back, the Cavs weren’t very good, and the Indians were really good. Once Northeast Ohio became home to me, I wanted the home teams to do really well. So, within that first couple years, it felt more like home, and then when I had my family — that hit home pretty hard. When you have a daughter who roots for those teams, it started to become a place that I really loved. I can only imagine what it’d be like if the Browns were good.
WFNY: Did you always want to work in sports?
Kevin Kleps: Yes. It’s funny – neither one of my parents was a big sports fan (they later followed sports much more because of how much their three boys played and followed it), but I just kind of got hooked in a really big way on my own at an early age. When I was younger I wanted to be a broadcaster but realized in high school that I was a better writer than talking head. In college, I thought I might wind up working in communications and public relations for a sports team, but my internship convinced me that I wanted to be a member of the media.
WFNY: What are some of your day-to-day work activities and responsibilities?
Kevin Kleps: My primary duty is covering sports business for Crain’s, but I also help with editing, primarily by writing headlines and proofing pages for our print edition. I’m also a backup for creative director David Kordalski, which means I design pages when he’s out of the office, needs a hand, etc.
WFNY: What are some elements of what you do that you don’t think the average reader is aware of?
Kevin Kleps: When people hear that you cover sports business, they think you’re really required to cover all these games. Of course, if the World Series is in town, or the NBA Finals, or the MLB All-Star Game next year, of course, there are huge events with a big business angle to it. But just a regular season Browns game or regular season Cavs game, that’s not really something that’s on your agenda as far as a sports business reporter.
Instead, you’re diving into the big picture aspects as far as ticket sales, revenue, big things the teams are doing with the fan experience. That’s not something that requires you to be at every game. It’s more so about the relationships with the teams, being attuned with your beat — and that’s more important than being at all these games and sitting in the media section.
WFNY: How is your work department organized at Crain’s?
Kevin Kleps: Elizabeth McIntyre is our editor and publisher. She oversees both the editorial and sales sides of the office. Scott Suttell is our managing editor. He supervises the reporters. (My title is assistant editor. I don’t supervise anyone but my kids. Ha.)
WFNY: What is your favorite thing about what you do?
Kevin Kleps: Getting to meet and interact with so many interesting people on the sports business beat is definitely a highlight. But mostly, it’s the stories. Whether it’s writing about the old Cleveland Force’s impact on the in-game theatrics that became a staple for the NBA or diving into the business impact of LeBron James, I really enjoy exploring a subject not a lot of people know about – and trying to find different angles on a subject with which almost everyone is familiar.
WFNY: You followed in Joel Hammond’s shoes at Crain’s, who left to work for the Indians and is pretty well known. Did you feel a lot of pressure right when you started?
Kevin Kleps: I actually worked with him for one week. He got the job at the Indians, but he hung around a little while longer and he was nice enough to hang around for an extra week to show me what he did. At the time, my role was only half sports business, half page layout, and design.
I was just eager to try something different. There was a little of the usual new job anxiety of not knowing how it all works, but I was just eager for a change and to do something new. I had been in that daily newspaper grind for almost 20 years. Joel did a lot of editing and page design as well and I took over what he did. But then we had a publisher who came in and said, “Sports business is huge, this shouldn’t be something that we’re devoting half of someone’s time to. We should be doing more with this.” So, it was a welcome change for me.
WFNY: How do you explain what you do to friends and family?
Kevin Kleps: Everyone is usually more familiar with the results and games, but they don’t think about what goes on behind the scenes with revenue and tickets. They may think about what players earn and their salaries, but not the other stuff that goes on with running a sports team, which is crucially important. My first year or two at Crain’s, it was a learning experience for me too. I had done some stuff in the past, but I was more focused on editing and the more results-oriented aspect of sports. I did a ton of high school, college, and fantasy sports, but not a ton of sports business experience.
WFNY: What neighborhood do you live in and how is your commute to work?
Kevin Kleps: I live with my wife and two kids (Brooklynn, 10; Brayden, 5) in Painesville. The Crain’s office is right in the warehouse district. On a good day, it’s a half hour. On one of those bad days — someone blows out a tire, a cop pulls someone over — it could take an hour or so.
WFNY: Aside from work, what are some of your favorite things to do?
Kevin Kleps: I’m an assistant coach on my daughter’s 10U softball team, which is pretty great. When I’m not at work, there’s a pretty good chance — similar odds to Jose Ramirez’s helmet flying off if he’s zipping around the bases — that I’m spending time with my wife (Erin) and kids. My daughter is a sports nut who loves softball, basketball, and has also played flag football and soccer. Her enthusiasm and competitiveness inspire me every day. I also love to read, but often have my time to do that limited by my dumb infatuation with Twitter.
WFNY: What is something else about you that our readers may not know?
Kevin Kleps: I used to write quite extensively about fantasy sports. When I was the assistant sports editor at The News-Herald, I had a weekly fantasy column, a fantasy blog and we used to publish an extensive breakdown of my fantasy football and baseball rankings each year. A reader — unless they’ve seen my limited number of tweets on this subject — probably also isn’t aware that I, like Bobby Hoekstra (whom I know you’ve already featured in this space), believe MTV’s “The Challenge” is America’s fifth major sport. I don’t have a lot of time for TV that doesn’t include live sports, but I always reserve a spot for T.J. Lavin and Co.