A Win-Win

By: Kim DeCoste Issue: Sports Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

Kroenke Sports Enterprises Does Great Work for Kids & Education

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.”- Marianne Williamson

Have you ever seen the look on a child’s face when she or he sees someone in person whom they regard as a hero? It can bring tears to your eyes. Whether it’s a child who is struggling in school, in life or with an illness, children sparkle differently when they get attention from their idols. And in these challenging times, we’ve seen a few recently tarnished images. In U.S. culture, we put certain people on pedestals, and right or wrong, we hold them in different regard than the everyday people of our lives, even if the everyday people are doing great things. It’s just the way it is. And we, as a culture, adjust our standards sometimes for the better – and sometimes not – to keep those heroes on our collective stage.

Private business is often seen as purely self-interested. And private owners of sports teams and organizations are not typically seen as heroes - or regarded as anything but performance and profit- driven entities. Here at ICOSA we believe, however, that we have found a sports organization that really does care and really does do amazing things in the community for all the right reasons.

Kroenke Sports Enterprises stands out as a leader, and is steered by the efforts of a small number of people to have great impact. While it is true that in sports there is always a winner and a loser, as Stan Kroenke stated to BusinessWeek, “Economics is about creating win-win situations.” And his organization is creating win-wins all over Denver and beyond.

It’s important to take a moment to clarify exactly who Kroenke Sports Enterprises is. Headed by the enigmatic and somewhat press-shy Stanley Kroenke, the empire is massive and Mr. Kroenke’s track record as a leader in the sports community as well as in business in general, is indisputable.

Kroenke Sports Enterprises and Mr. Kroenke himself own the Colorado Avalanche hockey team, the Denver Nuggets basketball team, the Colorado Rapids soccer team, the Colorado Mammoth Lacrosse team, and in Denver, the Pepsi Center as well as the historic Paramount Theatre. And, Kroenke developed the largest soccer specific complex in the world, constructing Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. He also sits atop the Altitude Entertainment Network, a 24-hour regional television network.

A native of Missouri, Mr. Kroenke was actively involved in bringing the National Football League Franchise Rams to St. Louis and he was enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. Aside from sports and entertainment, Mr. Kroenke is one of the country’s leading real estate developers through THF Realty and the Kroenke Group, and has an ownership stake in Screaming Eagle and Jonata vineyards in California.

We spoke with Deb Dowling-Canino, Vice President of Community Relations/Fan Development at Kroenke, whose personal success as the only woman on the 11 person executive leadership team is mirrored by her impressive accessibility (she answers her own phone) and her command of fast facts around the community programs in which Kroenke is invested.

In fewer than 15 minutes, she was able to give detailed information off the top of her head about the work that Kroenke is doing and how it has impacted children and education. While there are other areas of outreach, we focused specifically on kids and education. Ms. Dowling pointed easily to two tremendous programs Kroenke supports: The Boys’ & Girls’ Club’s partnership with the Denver Public School System as well as the support they offer to Colorado Special Olympics. And those, impressive as they are, just scratch the surface of all that Kroenke is doing.

An email from John Andrew, the Director of Athletics for Denver Public Schools came to us in response to our request for comment and it needs no modification. Mr. Andrew wrote the following, “Kroenke Sports has definitely been a life saver for the kids in Denver Public Schools. Their generosity of spirit has elevated the Nuggets/Avalanche Prep League into one of the premier middle school sports programs in the nation. Before Kroenke Sports, DPS was void of any after-school athletics for middle school aged kids and many kids found their way into trouble during the hours of 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.”

When Kroenke Sports came on board as a philosophical and financial sponsor of the Prep League in 1997, kids found that they had positive alternatives to turn to after school. The program boasts a high weekly eligibility component, [as well as] attendance and behavioral component that keep kids focused in order to participate in the after school practices and games.

Over the past 13 years the Nuggets/Avalanche Prep League has grown from 900 kids in 1997 to over 5,000 kids participating in 2010. We have seen an increase in school pride and pride in the different communities of Denver. It is not only the after school Prep League where Kroenke Sports shines. Andrew says, “They have provided so many opportunities for our children in DPS to experience what can often be taken for granted in more affluent areas of Colorado.” In fact, Kroenke now supports multiple projects within the DPS school district such as Nuggets Open Practice, Nugget for a Day, Avalanche for the Day, Fun, Fit and Literacy, homeless initiatives, Youth Development, Ticket Vouchers (a great incentive for the kids to do well in school), donated weight equipment, Nuggets Summer Basketball, Team Fit [and] Special Olympics – to name a few.

“The players on the teams, while tired and overworked, have always made every appearance a special one for the kids. To see the players interact with the kids warms your heart and makes you believe that everyone can make a difference in the lives of children. These are just a few of the initiatives that make Kroenke Sports so special,” added Andrew.

He went on to say exactly what we’d planned to write in this article – that this kind of good work cannot occur without the dedication and focus of truly excellent leaders. “It is truly a special organization run by a very special person. Deb Dowling is an incredible leader who focuses a group of the most dedicated staff that I have ever experienced. Her staff, from Doug Fulton (liaison to Prep League), Matt Deluzio, Mark Randall (Community Ambassador and hometown hero), Amy Yuratovak, Katie Wolfe, and Lesley Linscott, are entirely committed to the work that they do. These people truly care about the lives of kids in Denver. They are so much more than a company that has a Community Department; they are the Community here in Denver. Each and every initiative they take on has a personal meaning to them. I know that lives have been changed because of this group of people. Kids will look back on their experience with Kroenke Sports and know that someone cared,” stated Andrew.

The other pinnacle program at Kroenke was the partnership with Special Olympics of Colorado. For over twenty years they have been working with the Special Olympics to organize all-team clinics. In these clinics, 125 special Olympians statewide come together for a chance to learn more about a sport. Take basketball, for example; in the basketball all-team clinic, kids are invited to attend a clinic at the Pepsi Center where stations are set up with members of the Denver Nuggets. The kids work around each station and are able to learn important lessons directly from the players, as well as improve their skills. By the time they complete the circuit, they will have improved their game and met the entire team!

Last year’s event had nearly 150 Special Olympic Colorado athletes ranging in age from 7-70 and marked the sixth successive year the Nuggets’ staff and players have volunteered time to host this event. The Denver Nuggets organization is the only team in the NBA that does an all player/all coaches clinic for Special Olympics. In fact, Dowling-Canino confirmed that this clinic for the Special Olympics of Colorado is the only mandatory team appearance required each year for the Nuggets and it is considered a favorite among staff and players.

As Head Coach George Karl said after the event, “We give these special athletes our time and, in return, they give us their spirit.” Special Olympics President & CEO Mindy Watros commented, “Year after year, our athletes have the time of their lives during this clinic. We are extremely grateful to the Denver Nuggets and Kroenke Sports for this opportunity and to Comfort Dental for their sponsorship of the event.”

When we see these “human interest” stories on the news or read of them in the paper, the photos are of the players and kids. And, as we began the article, there is nothing like the look on the face of a child when she or he gets to meet a “hero.” We appreciate when we see our superstar sports icons engaging with everyday kids in everyday ways. It makes them feel more “normal” to those of us who carpool, participate in PTO, or fundraise to help our kids and their schools.

Unseen and often unmentioned though are the business leaders behind the organizations’ stars. There are good people working hard every day. Yes, they drive profit and watch the bottom line. Yes, they collect a paycheck just like the rest of us fortunate enough to be working. But they also strive to have a positive impact in the cities where they live. They work hard every day to help people understand the connection between the athletes, the teams and the community.

It reminds us of the sometimes misquoted American teacher, scholar and scout leader, Dr. Forest Witcraft, who in October of 1950 submitted an essay which said in part, “I am not a Very Important Man, as importance is commonly rated. I do not have great wealth, control a big business, or occupy a position of great honor or authority. Yet, I may someday mold destiny. For it is within my power to become the most important man in the world in the life of a boy. And every boy is a potential atom bomb in human history…All about me are boys. They are the makers of history, the builders of tomorrow. If I can have some part in guiding them …I may prove to be the most important man in their lives, the most important man in my community. A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy.” Our only addition to this noble quote? We’d just add “or a girl”!

Kim DeCoste is the President of DeCoste & Associates, a strategic career management and coaching firm specializing in career transition (www.DeCosteAssociates.com). Kim is also actively involved in STEM initiatives, public K-12 education and clean technology expansion through the South Metro Denver Chamber and Cleantech Open (www.CleantechOpen.com).