Chris Harrington '12, his dad, and several close friends watched the waning moments of the most improbable NBA Finals in League history from his downtown Cleveland apartment. With two minutes left to play in Game 7 and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors tied at 89, Harrington, a self-professed diehard Cleveland sports fan, was anxious. The Cavs weren’t just his hometown team anymore. He had recently joined the organization as in-house counsel, a dream job helped made possible by a C|M|LAW professor and mentor who saw great potential in him at the Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy.
Harrington, born in Cleveland’s Rust Belt neighbor Detroit, moved to the Cleveland west-side suburb of Avon Lake when he was two years old, where he remained until attending Albion College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, studying economics and management, and gaining his first professional experience as an intern at an investment banking firm. In 2009, he graduated from college to a contracting economy and, like many people his age at the time, decided to go back to school to obtain a graduate degree and hopefully enter an improved job market by the time he graduated. But his decision to return to school came with a realization.
“When I was with friends and family, our conversations rarely touched on anything relating to the stock market. Instead, we talked about the Browns’ upcoming draft, the Indians’ farm system, the outlook on the Cavs’ season, or what upcoming concerts, TV shows and movies we were most excited about,” he said. “I decided I wanted a career that reflected the interests that defined me, and felt that the skills garnered from law school would make me a much more attractive professional candidate.”
Following his first year at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Harrington got his first taste of the entertainment business during a summer internship at a talent agency in New York City. While he was there, he learned of a trio of new sports law courses to be offered at Cleveland-Marshall during the upcoming school year, all of which would be taught by recently-hired Professor Peter A. Carfagna, a former Senior Partner at Jones Day and Chief Legal Officer/General Counsel of what was then IMG, a global leader in sports, events, media, and fashion that has since merged with Hollywood powerhouse talent agency William Morris Endeavor to form WME-IMG. Harrington immediately signed up for the courses and doubled down to make sure he stood out in the class. His effort paid off.
"From the first day that I met Chris, I saw he wasn’t going to be denied an opportunity to work in the sports industry,” said Carfagna. “He was the absolute best student in the class.”
After excelling in all three sports law classes, The Legal Evolution of the Three Major Leagues, Representing the Professional Athlete, and Negotiating and Drafting Sports Venue Agreements, Carfagna, who also heads Harvard Law School’s sports law program, asked Harrington to serve as executive assistant for The Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy, a then newly-formed partnership between Cleveland-Marshall and Case Western Reserve University School of Law that combines the Representing the Professional Athlete and Negotiating and Drafting Sports Venue Agreements courses with other law courses focused on the entertainment side to introduce students to the type of legal work encountered on a daily basis by lawyers who practice in the sports and entertainment fields.
“Chris had a tremendous attitude and work ethic, helping out on the administrative end and building partnerships with outside organizations for student externships,” said Carfagna. “He really helped launch the program we have today."
Carfagna repaid Harrington’s hard work when he recommended him for an in-house placement with The Madison Square Garden Company’s Teams and Sports Operations department following his second year of law school, where he worked for three New York professional sports franchises, including the NBA’s Knicks, the NHL’s Rangers and the WNBA’s Liberty.
When Harrington graduated law school the next year, his education and experience helped him land his first permanent legal position with the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and then newly-built Barclays Center arena, which, shortly after Harington’s arrival, expanded its local footprint and became the organization now known as Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, handling business operations for the NHL’s New York Islanders and operating the newly-renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, among other ventures.
“Soon after I began the job, I knew I was in a special situation where I could gain big-time experience, which came almost immediately,” said Harrington. “So much of what I was doing was right out of Peter’s classes; performing research and working on agreements for a newly-branded professional sports franchise and a newly-minted arena. I really felt prepared for what I was asked to do.”
Three years later, his dream job unexpectedly came open when the Cavs organization decided it needed a second in-house counsel. “It did not cross my mind whatsoever that I’d have the opportunity to work for my hometown team,” he said. “But it happened.”
In 2015, after three years of working in Brooklyn, Harrington came back to Cleveland to work for the Cavs and Quicken Loans Arena, reporting directly to General Counsel Jason Hillman, where he handles all sponsorship, suite license, and concert agreements, among other agreements and responsibilities. He also serves Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s other local sports franchises, including the NBA D-League’s Canton Charge, the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League.
Landing his dream job was a culmination of years of hard work, but Harrington attributes an overwhelming amount of his success to Carfagna, his teacher and mentor, whom he remains close with today.
“What Peter did for me, for my career, I cannot be any more grateful,” he said. “You know how much he enjoys teaching when you see how much he cares about his students and where life takes them.”
Today, Harrington’s office is Quicken Loans Arena, the sports and entertainment hub of a revitalized downtown Cleveland, and perfect environment for someone who lives and breathes Cleveland sports. The walls are covered with super-sized game photos, bobble heads sit where most offices would have plants, and many employees dress like fans on game day, wearing Cavs t-shirts and polos. And now, after the unforgettable Game 7 victory, each and every employee has a championship ring to go with their other team apparel, courtesy of Cavs ownership.
“When the clock hit zero, it was like a locker room in my place. Everyone sprayed each other with drinks, hugged, and screamed. We ran downstairs to celebrate in the streets of Cleveland. It was a surreal experience of raw euphoria, exactly what I had dreamed it’d be like,” Harrington said. “To be a part of an organization that means so much to me and Northeast Ohio, is indescribable. It is a perfect fit.”