Everyone associates the month of March with college basketball, but the sport itself is a year-round winner for younger players as well.
Basketball is the number-one youth sport in the United States, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. In fact, SFIA's most recent data shows basketball had 26.2 million players nationwide in one year. That’s nearly as many as the next two sports -- baseball and outdoor soccer -- combined. And just waiting to host those players is a plethora of cities with outstanding facilities. Here's a sampling of places guaranteed to make any event a slam dunk.
Eugene, Oregon: Say "Oregon," and a lot of people think of track and field. But Eugene is the home of the University of Oregon Ducks and their roost, the 12,500-seat Matthew Knight Arena. The facility hosts the Ducks’ men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball home games, the state high school basketball championships, AAU and Oregon Amateur Basketball tournaments.
"Matthew Knight is state-of-the-art,” says Janis Ross, executive director of the Eugene, Cascades and Coast Sports Commission. “The court, locker rooms, media rooms, training and medical facilities rival any NBA arena.”
Matt Knight, as the locals call it, is also ecologically state-of-the-art, and may become the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certified arena in the NCAA. But don't let its small carbon footprint fool you -- it has the NCAA’s largest, and highest-resolution, center-hung scoreboard.
Then there is the floor, stenciled with the silhouettes of fir trees in honor of Oregon’s only national champion basketball team, the 1939 “Tall Firs.”
“People either love it or hate it. I love it,” says Ross. “It’s a work of art.”
When the Pan-American Masters Basketball Championship was played three years ago, Matt Knight was not finished. No matter. The city had plenty of courts available for the 600 players age 50 and older at the Springfield Center for Recreation and Sports, community college and regional high schools. “Multiple venues are not a problem. There are lots of courts here,” says Ross.
Eugene is also a hotbed of high school basketball, and because of that, says Ross, “we have plenty of good, experienced officials available.” Additionally, Oregon has no sales tax, something that appeals to planners looking to save money.
Lubbock, Texas, is home to the nation’s biggest high school basketball tournament. This year’s Caprock Classic featuring 85 teams, was held in December in high school gyms all over town, with the finals at Lubbock Christian University’s Rip Griffin Center. Yes, everything really is bigger in Texas.
But Lubbock itself is a compact city with a small-town vibe. Most attractions and sites are located within a 15-minute radius, according to Josh Dill, sports sales manager for the Lubbock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can go practice and get back to the gym in time for the next game,” says Dill, “or you can go get something to eat and get back fast.”
Lubbock is also home to Texas Tech and its 16,000-seat basketball arena, but, says Dill, Rip Griffin is the arena most often used because it allows spectators to be close to the action. In addition, he notes, the Convention and Visitors Bureau can stream video of games.
Dill is part of a two-man sports crew at the Lubbock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We pride ourselves on the hospitality side of things,” says Dill. “We try to tailor our service to every event.” They will even organize the tournament if needed—Dill is a seasoned coordinator.
“We like to say, we try to get you to bring your tournament, and if you do bring it here, we’re they guys there helping out," he says. "We like to be there start to finish. We take southern hospitality to the next level".
West Virginia: John Denver's classic tune said it was “almost heaven,” and these days, planners of basketball events are singing the state's praises, and those of Morgantown, as well. Morgantown is home to West Virginia University, as well as to any number of great hoops venues. There's even a monorail to get participants from place to place.
WVU boasts a rec center with seven courts. “We are blessed,” says Dave Plevich, sports events manager for the Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The rec center is very appealing to organizations that have tournaments.”
Teams visiting Morgantown get a tour of the university and its facilities, including the 14,000-seat Coliseum, where the Mountaineers play, the locker rooms and the new, $24 million practice facility, which includes two courts and two half-courts for men and women, training and film rooms, a weight room and players’ lounge.
But that's not all the town has to offer. “We have 19 or 20 basketball facilities in the area, and we host tournaments from 20 teams up to 150,” says Plevich. “Boys and girls, AAU and GBA (Girls Basketball Association), ages 8-18.”
Most things in Morgantown are within walking distance, but visitors can also take the Personal Rapid Transit system, which features eight-passenger cars on a monorail. “Kids love it,” says Cindy Coffendaffer, director of marketing for the Morgantown CVB.
Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the U.S., but it's capable of hosting some big-name basketball tournaments. Each April, hundreds of New England college hopefuls gather at the Providence Jam Fest. Jam Fests are held at several sites around the country, and have a reputation of being one of the best ways for boys ages 10-18 to get noticed by college coaches. In Providence, there have been as many as 300 teams in the tournament playing on 30 courts around town. For girls, there’s Commotion by the Ocean, an AAU tournament held Memorial Day weekend that attracts as many as 150 teams.
Because of NCAA recruiting rules, Jam Fest can’t use many college facilities. It doesn't mean a lack of courts, though. Games are played in high school and vocational school gyms throughout the metro area, says John Gibbons, executive director of the Rhode Island Sports Commission. Teams can even play on the three courts at Johnson & Wales, one of the nation’s most prestigious culinary schools.
Another outstanding Providence facility is the 13,000-seat Dunkin’ Donuts Center (known as "the Dunk"). The Dunk is part of the Rhode Island Convention & Entertainment Complex, which also includes the Rhode Island Convention Center (RICC) and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Home to the Big East Providence College men’s basketball team, it also plays host to other sporting events, major concerts, family shows and trade shows.
“Oklahoma City is a pretty big basketball town,” says Sue Hollenbeck, assistant director of sports business development at the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. Oklahoma State University has made a name for itself in Big 12 competition—the Cowboys won the Big 12 tournament in 2004-05, and the Cowgirls were runners-up in 2008.
There's also NBA action when the Oklahoma City Thunder plays, with basketball-happy OKC residents filling the 18,203-seat Chesapeake Energy Arena for every game. And with 16,000 hotel rooms available in town, finding accommodations is easy.
Other hoops action in the city includes the state high school basketball tournament, the Sooner State Championship, and the Mid-America Youth Basketball girls’ national championship, which draws 100 teams. There is also a tournament for teams of homeschooled students.
Oklahoma City has hosted the Big 12 conference championship twice, with men's teams playing at Chesapeake Energy and women's teams across the street at the Cox Convention Center.
Winston-Salem is nestled into an area of central North Carolina that also includes Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, making it one of the most basketball-rich regions in the country. Winston-Salem itself is home to Winston-Salem State University, as well as Wake Forest University, and hosted the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament for four years straight. “Basketball is quite popular here,” says Bonny Bernat, sports and events sales manager for the Winston-Salem Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Powerade State Games, featuring high school basketball, gymnastics, shooting, disc golf and other sports are hosted at venues all over town. Large events take place at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum of the Winston-Salem Entertainment-Sports Complex, a 14,000-seat arena that also is home to Wake Forest's Demon Deacons. Additionally, the city can host basketball at the YWCA with three courts, at Wake Forest, which has two multi-court recreation buildings, and at Forsyth Country Day School, which offers three courts.
The CVB considers itself a one-stop shop for tournament directors, says Bernat. “We like to work with tournament directors from the beginning, help with parking and housing needs, take all the reservations, and solicit volunteers if needed. We will help with as many elements as we can,” she says.
Lowell, Massachusetts, played host to the 2011 Atlantic 10 women’s basketball tournament. The tourney, which drew 12 teams, 40,000 attendance and national television exposure, was held at the 6,000-seat Tsongas Center at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Tsongas is the premier facility in the region, which also boasts more than a dozen good high school and rec gyms.
Having the Atlantic 10 in town was a proud moment for Lowell, which is working on attracting more major tournaments, says Debbie Belanger, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The region also grows tomorrow's players, hosting several youth tournaments a month. Highlights are an annual Veterans' Day Shootout for girls, and a February shootout, also for girls, that attracts teams from six states and sells out every year. Both are held at the Tsongas Center.
There is no lack of accommodations, either, with 45 hotels ranging from national chains to independent bed-and-breakfasts. And for those who just can't get enough basketball, the town of Springfield, 90 miles away, is home to the National Basketball Hall of Fame.
DeKalb County, Georgia, is home to Stone Mountain, and close to the cosmopolitan offerings of Atlanta. It's no stranger to sports, either; the archery, cycling and tennis competitions of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics were held at Stone Mountain Park.
Dan Bell, sports marketing manager of the DeKalb Convention and Visitors Bureau, says there is plenty of room for basketball, too, in several high school gyms seating 500-1,000 spectators. DeKalb recently hosted the Converse Invitational Basketball Classic, with 18 elite high school teams, five of them from DeKalb County, tipping off against six out-of-state teams and seven more Georgia teams. It was a great success and showcased DeKalb high school basketball, according to Matt Brock, statistician and sports information director for the DeKalb County Schools.
There are middle school, high school and AAU tournaments in the county too, says Dan Bell, as well as plenty of space to put everyone. The county has 9,000 hotel rooms at various price points, and plenty of things to do outside of the court.
Stone Mountain Park boasts the world’s largest bas-relief sculpture, of Confederate icons Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, by three sculptors and hundreds of carvers. (One of the sculptors, Gutzon Borglum, quit after a dispute with the memorial board and went off to carve Mount Rushmore.) The park also has miles of hiking trails, an aerial tramway, interactive exhibits and a theatre with a variety of daily shows.
A total of 26.2 million players can't be wrong. Basketball is big business. And with venues like these, your net return is likely to be very positive.