With March Madness on the horizon, there is plenty of action on the hardwoods for diehard fans to take in across the nation.
What started with two peach baskets and a soccer ball in 1891 has evolved to become one of the most popular sports in the United States. And just as basketball has grown in sophistication and popularity, so too have the venues in which the games are played.
Basketball leads in participation among the nation’s high schools with 18,150 schools and more than 980,000 student athletes competing annually according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The abundance of venues spread throughout the United States is mind-boggling. From YMCAs to high schools, and from top-notch collegiate facilities to world-class NBA arenas, there is no shortage of places to play one of the country's most popular sports.
NBA and NCAA
The belles of the ball (in basketball facilities, anyway) are arguably the arenas in which the sport's greatest athletes compete on a professional level in the NBA and WNBA.
Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, is home to the Charlotte Bobcats and newest among the NBA arenas, opening in 2005. It boasts the largest video screen on the scoreboard of any NBA facility. But that’s not to say its counterparts aren’t working feverishly to upgrade their facilities with the latest technologies and sound systems available.
Ford Center, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder recently underwent a $100 million renovation to areas including the concourse, suites, locker rooms and scoreboards, while in New York, Madison Square Garden is currently undergoing a $770 million facelift with completion expected in 2013. The Garden will have more comfortable seating, new scoreboard, sound and LED video systems and upgrades to suites, clubs and hospitality areas.
Back to School
But the latest and greatest isn’t reserved just for the pros. The Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon opened in January 2011 and is home to the University of Oregon Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs.
“It’s such a stunning arena,” said Janis Ross, vice president of convention and sports marketing with Oregon-based Travel Lane County. “It’s state-of-the-art. The locker rooms are spacious, the capabilities for media with the technology is there and there are four loading dock bays, providing ample space for teams.”
A highlight of Matthew Knight Arena is its awareness of the environment and its efforts in building green. The facility is making application to become the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified arena in the NCAA.
In North Carolina, the Raleigh-Durham area is home to some of basketball’s powerhouses, including the University of North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University.
The RBC Center, located in Raleigh, is home not just to NC State but also to multiple NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and it's no wonder: when a facility offers seating for 19,722 and ample parking, it’s bound to become a destination.
In 2007, RBC hosted the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament first and second rounds, and followed up in 2008 with the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournaments.
The NCAA returns to the William Donald Carmichael, Jr. Arena in UNC Chapel Hill in March for the first and second rounds of the Division I Women’s Basketball UNC Campus. Regionals, meanwhile, will be held at the RBC Center.
The DeVos Fieldhouse on the campus of Hope College in Holland, Michigan hosted the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball National Championships for the first time in 2009, and organizers are excited to welcome the event back this March.
“It’s a great facility that started with a $5 million donation and ended with a $22 million facility,” said Wendy Link, director of sales, Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The seats in the field house are larger than standard seats, giving you more room and comfort. Besides the playing court, there is a practice court and a large workout facility.”
In St. Joseph, Missouri, there are several options to score a slam-dunk. One is the Bode Sports Complex, which has six court outdoor lighted basketball complex with color-coded benches, seating, scoreboards and pro-style glass backboards with colored pads.
The Lone Star State also much to recommend itself, and like everyone else, locals love their basketball. Planners can enjoy the multiple facilities, including the Ford Park Event Center in Beaumont, Texas. Within this complex, the 8,500-seat Ford Park Arena has prime multi-purpose space and can host everything from sports to rodeo to circuses.
Want to fly south? Bowling Green, Kentucky is ready to bowl you over with true basketball arenas including the 4,000-seat facility at Bowling Green High School, 2,400-seat facility at Greenwood High School, and 2,500-seat facility at South Warren High School. Western Kentucky University's E.A. Diddle Arena, meanwhile, has a seating capacity of 7,326 as well as two video boards and space for meetings. The intramural facilities at the university's Raymond Preston Athletic Center, meanwhile, feature six indoor courts.
Tournaments and Events
Planners know a great location can make their marquee event even more enticing. The Great Smoky Shootout takes place over Memorial Day weekend in Hickory, North Carolina. There are 160 teams from seven states and approximately 1,500 players in attendance.
“We have Shuford Memorial Gymnasium at Lenoir Rhyne College and Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC),” said Tara Hicks, sales and marketing director with the Hickory Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “CVCC has a great facility with two-level bleachers. The Highland Recreation Center has two full courts contained in one building so you can have two games at one time.”
'The Shootout,' as it is nicknamed, resulted in an economic impact of $2.9 million in 2011 and used 625 room nights. The area also hosts the Catawba Valley Classic with eight regional high schools and is used as a fundraiser to give back to the schools within the community.
Every April for the past eight years, the Deep South Classic has taken over Duke’s Reynolds Coliseum as well as Carmichael at Chapel Hill. “Each April brings in 220-240 of the best girls all-star travel teams as well as 300-500 college coaches who come in to recruit,” explained Scott Dupree, vice president of sports marketing with the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That event produces 8,000 hotel room nights and $2.5 million of direct visitor spending.”
Janis Ross and her Travel Lane County staff work to ensure events make sense for the community and for the University of Oregon. “We analyze everything on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “We make sure we can accommodate the size event that we are looking for, make sure it’s over a few days but also to make sure it’s a good fit for the arena. We have to be aware that it’s a college campus.”
Outside the Lines
And with all those facilities available, the hoops community has gone outside the box on more than one occasion.
In November 2011, Michigan State University battled University of North Carolina outdoors on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. The game attracted 3.86 million viewers (according to ESPN.com) and was the most watched college basketball game since North Carolina faced Duke in March 2006. It had the added distinction of being watched by 7,000 military personnel and President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
It's not the only unique venue, though. The NBA has hosted the Duel in the Desert, a game between the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets, at the Indian Wells Tennis Center in California. In 2004, the WNBA hosted an exhibition game between the U.S. Olympic Team and a team of WNBA All-Stars at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Sometimes, courts can be assembled in a snap, literally. The U.S. Junior Nationals is held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with boys and girls competing from grades 5 through 12, with 250 teams participating. “That is our marquee event,” said Gregg Cook, sports marketing manager for the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. “What makes it attractive is that we own 78,500 square feet of snap-in sport flooring.” And with 172,000 square feet of surface available, the system works.
“We have the concessions, ample parking and bleachers for plenty of seating. It allows multiple courts under one roof which allows for easy scheduling and the event promoter can manage the event more easily,” said Cook. The USJN utilizes up to 15 high school gymnasiums in the area as well.
Sounds like a dream come true for Stan Quash, Director of Basketball with the Amateur Athletic Union. AAU sanctions approximately 5,500 events in basketball in the U.S. alone.
“When we go for our nationals,” explained Quash. “We are looking for a multi-court facility. At Walt Disney World, we have six courts in one facility and six in another, so we have 12 courts to work with and it provides a more festive atmosphere for the tournament.”
Getting the Assist
Another key factor for the AAU when looking at destinations is community support. “We look for the backing of the community,” Quash said. “From the CVB to the hotels and restaurants; it allows our people to come in and have a good experience in the city and they will want to come back.”
“Pricing is a big factor overall,” continued Quash. “If you can get the facility at a reasonable price, everything follows. It truly has to be a destination. Technically, the players may only be playing in one game a day and these kids get restless. They want to do something fun.”
Hershey-Harrisburg was named Top Minor League Market in the United States by Sports Business Journal for the second consecutive time, the first destination to do so. “Our community support is tremendous,” said Gregg Cook. “We try to get our partners involved with the events. Our hotels, restaurants and attractions have the opportunity to extend special offers.”
Partnerships are key to any destination when hosting sports events, say the experts.
“For a community our size, we have a tremendous resource with our volunteers,” said Janis Ross. “We never have an issue with getting people to volunteer and we are really rich in officials, specifically basketball. And the local business community, I can’t stress enough how supportive they are. We sometimes go to the same well, but they are so willing to say 'Yes, let’s do it again.' I never feel like we have to twist people’s arms.”
Post-game analysis plays a big role in the events that the Greater Raleigh CVB bids on. With a strong base of community support already in place, the organization is always on the lookout for ways to meet and exceed expectations. “We always want to be affiliated with first-class events,” said Scott Dupree.
Hickory has the support of the community not only through financial corporate support but with volunteerism as well for both the Great Smoky Shootout and the Catawba Valley Classic. “Both are sponsored and supported by the Hickory Sports Commission with 20 volunteers that support sports in our area and provided the bid money to secure the event,” Tara Hicks explains.
In Holland, Michigan, each team is assigned a Holland Host; that person acts as the liaison on behalf of the team to handle whatever the teams need from the community. “We call it the warm Dutch ‘Welkom’,” said Wendy Link. “We always make sure we have the personal touch with customization.”
For the past 121 years, the sport of basketball and its venues have continued to grow and will continue for the next 100 years for our enjoyment.