Basketball: A Sport That’s In the Zone
6 Jan, 2015By: Peter Francesconi
Some say the road to March Madness starts in college gyms at the beginning of the season. In reality, it starts in facilities all over the nation, at all levels of play, from kids’ recreational teams all the way up to institutions of higher learning.
Why? Because the sport itself has universal appeal, and is popular across the board. According to the latest research by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) and Sports Marketing Surveys USA, there are nearly 23.7 million basketball participants in the U.S.—one of the largest groups for recreational sports in the country. In fact, 8.2% of the American population over age 6 has played basketball at least once in the last year.
The U.S. participation figures for basketball actually have slipped slightly over the last six years, from a high of 26.1 million in 2008. But that slight downward trend seems to have slowed significantly over the last couple of years. And the reality is, basketball, which is now played the world over, is still extremely popular everywhere, by players of all ages.
As the interest and participation in the sport grows, facilities across the U.S. are welcoming the players. Some facilities are new, some are old favorites and some have made renovations to attract even more events. There’s no doubt that sports event planners have a wide-open field to choose from when looking for a home court for their next tournament.
“There is lots of basketball here in Columbus,” says Bruce Wimbish, the director of marketing for the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. “We are blessed to have NCAA Divisions I, II and III schools here and a lot of good basketball teams. Our city really rallies behind the sport.”
And there are some great basketball venues in Columbus, too, including Nationwide Arena and, just minutes away, the Schottenstein Center, which is the largest arena in the Big Ten Conference and home to Ohio State men’s and women’s basketball (as well as men’s hockey and other sports events). The venue has also hosted the Ohio High School Athletic Association Boys’ and Girls’ basketball championships. And recently, the Schottenstein Center was again a pre-season venue for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ohio Dominican University’s Alumni Hall, which seats 3,000 fans and is home to the Panther men’s and women’s basketball teams, is set to host the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championships in 2017.
The 13,435-seat University of Dayton Arena is considered the birthplace of “March Madness.” From 2001 to 2010, the facility hosted the annual “play-in” game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament between the teams rated 64th and 65th. And now, and through 2018, UD Arena is home to the NCAA “First Four” opening round. In all, UD Arena has hosted more men’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament games than any other venue.
In addition, the area has the James S. Trent Arena (in the nearby suburb of Kettering). Built in 2005, Trent Arena can seat up to 4,400 fans and includes two full-size basketball courts and four locker rooms. (Trent Arena also is within half a mile of four other full-size basketball courts.) Every January for the past 12 years, Trent Arena has hosted the “Flyin’ to the Hoop” tournament, which CBS Sports ranks as the No. 2 high school basketball showcase in the nation. The 2015 event, Jan. 16-19, will feature the largest field ever, with 41 teams, some from as far away as California.
“We also have many other basketball facilities available, including at Sinclair Community College and Wright State University,” says Jacquelyn Powell, the president and CEO of the Dayton CVB. In addition, several area high schools have used the Dayton Convention Center for basketball events.
“We’re a major basketball community,” Powell adds, “and we’re very proud that the University of Dayton Flyers went to the Elite Eight last year. It’s really something to celebrate in a community that loves this sport the way we do.”
Florence, South Carolina
The City of Florence is gearing up for a major jump into basketball. “We’re building a basketball gymnasium that will be about 30,000 square feet, with three courts,” says Matthew Watts, the athletic director for the City of Florence Recreation Department. The new facility, which is planning to open at the end of 2015 or beginning of 2016, will also contain multi-purpose rooms, meeting rooms and hospitality rooms.
“We needed our own gym, since our youth basketball rec leagues continue to grow and we have limited use of the high school facilities,” Watts says. “With three courts, we’ll be able to host large tournaments, hopefully bringing in 60-plus teams.”
Florence also is home to Francis Marion University, which has the Smith University Center gymnasium that seats over 2,500. “We have a lot of revitalization going on in the city of Florence,” adds Watts, “and there is always something happening in town. This is a great place for families.”
One of the premier venues for basketball in Hampton, Virginia, is the 135,000-square-foot Boo Williams Sports Complex. The unique facility, in two pavilions, is designed for amateur athletic competition and can accommodate eight basketball courts, and includes meeting rooms and event offices. “We have a lot of events at the Boo Williams Complex,” says Tiffany Carr, the sports sales manager for the Hampton CVB, “including the AAU Nationals. We also have summer basketball camps there as well.”
The Hampton Roads Convention Center, designed to accommodate any type of event, is a great venue for major basketball tournaments, too. In April, Carr says, the facility will be configured with 12 basketball courts and, together with the eight at the Boo Williams Sports Complex, will host a Nike Spring Girls Basketball Invitational with more than 200 teams.
The area also has other venues available for basketball, too, including the Hampton Coliseum and facilities at Hampton University. “We have a lot of community support for basketball events, and sports in general,” Carr says. “Our CVB has great relationships with hotel partners, and we can help tournament owners and organizers with everything from transportation in the city to signage, restaurants, and more.”
The small city of Moberly, Missouri, sits about two hours away from Kansas City to the west and St. Louis to the east, just north of Interstate 70 and the major university town of Columbia, Missouri. But when it comes to basketball, Moberly has hosted some pretty high-powered events in the Fitzsimmons-John Arena on the Moberly Area Community College campus.
Named for Cotton Fitzsimmons and Maury John, two legendary basketball coaches at the college who went on to coach at schools in the Midwest and in the NBA, the arena in the 57,000-square-foot Activity Center can seat 2,650 and is the home of the men’s and women’s Greyhound basketball teams, two of the top junior college teams in the nation. The facility has hosted district and sectional competition, including the high school sectionals. “Coming up,” says MACC Activity Center Director Pat Burke, “is the Class 1 High School quarterfinals, with 16 teams.”
Prescott Valley, Arizona
The place to play in Prescott Valley, Arizona, is the Prescott Valley Event Center (PVEC), a $36 million multi-purpose facility that seats about 5,100. In fact, for nearly a week in February, about 40 high school basketball teams will descend on the Event Center for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) Basketball Tournament.
“The AIA event has been held here for the last six years,” says Dave Kredell, PVEC’s chief marketing and sales director. “We'll have teams from all over the state here, playing morning, noon and night.” The facility also has hosted other state and regional basketball events, too.
“We do a lot of hockey here, and in fact house a minor league hockey team,” Kredell says. “The ice is down from October to April, but we put our floor down on top of the ice and we’re good to rock.” PVEC has 24 luxury VIP suites, “like you’d see in any large arena,” seating from 10 to 32 people each. “A lot of booster clubs will rent them for events, so it’s nice for the teams to be here.”
Kredell says PVEC opened nine years ago and is still very much state-of-the-art. “We provide all the scoreboard graphics, have a dedicated sound room, offer premium loge seating with counter space, and have a VIP lounge, often used for officials running events here, where we’ll set up a special food and beverage buffet.”
Prescott Valley is about 60 miles north of Phoenix, in a very sports-minded community. PVEC is located in an entertainment district that includes shopping, restaurants and more, all within short walking distance.
Wildwoods, New Jersey
Wildwoods is at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, about 50 miles east of Philadelphia, and within easy driving distance from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York City and many East Coast locations. “In fact,” says Ben Rose, the director of marketing for Greater Wildwoods Tourism, “we’re within a day’s drive of about one-third of the U.S. population.” But it’s also easy to get to Wildwoods by air, with airports in Atlantic City, Philly and Newark all within 90 minutes or less.
The huge Wildwoods Convention Center, overlooking the beach and ocean, features a 75,000-square-foot arena that can be configured for two full-size NCAA basketball courts. Among the many tournaments hosted at the venue is the Boardwalk Basketball Classic, the largest co-ed basketball tourney in the country, held every year in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with over 120 teams. “We get some of the top-rated teams in the country,” Rose says. “The courts we lay down were purchased from the NCAA and used for the Final Four, so they’re basically used only once, then we have them. They’re just beautiful.” The venue also hosts the Harlem Globetrotters for four days every summer.
The roof of the facility is a translucent, Teflon-coated fabric that lets in natural light during the day, and the entire east wall is glass that overlooks the beach and ocean. “It’s quite a unique facility, in a unique location,” says Rose. “Plus, young athletes love the fact that we’re right on the beach and boardwalk. We have three amusement piers here, waterparks, rides and attractions, and lots of shops. Families make a vacation out of it.”
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
“Our community is passionate about sports,” says Bonny Bernat, sports sales manager for Visit Winston-Salem, “which helps to make us a perfect host city.” For basketball events, Winston-Salem has had a lot of experience hosting conference and national championships. In fact, the city is home to six colleges and universities, competing in all three NCAA Divisions. In recent years, the city has hosted the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, and will host the Powerade State Games of North Carolina starting in 2017.
One of the premier facilities is Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which Wake Forest University took ownership of last year and is renovating to enhance the fan experience. The coliseum has seating for 14,600. For multiple courts, the Jerry Long Family YMCA offers four courts, and there are about 16 different facilities in the area with courts, including the C.E. Gaines Center/Whitaker Gym at Winston-Salem State University, with two courts, and seating for 2,570-plus.
Visit Winston-Salem connects tourney owners and rights holders with local contacts that can help with all sorts of needs. In addition, the CVB provides visitor guides, maps, and restaurant guides and can assist in coordinating dining incentives and discounted tickets at many area attractions.