Courting the Game | Sports Destination Management

Courting the Game

Basketball Continues Its Run as a Top Youth Travel Sport
Dec 18, 2019 | By: Tracey Schelmetic

© Sports Images |
March Madness is around the corner, high school basketball is well into its season – and the U.S. Basketball Association (USBA) says its biggest growth market of the game is international; in fact, the USBA has seen a 20 to 25 percent increase in that sector annually, with tournaments in Canada, Puerto Rico, South Korea, the Netherlands and other locations.

The group’s biggest event is the USBA National Championship, held every July, which hosts over 600 teams from more than 30 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and other nations. The organization has a tried-and-true formula for choosing event destinations.

“We like to use convention centers or other multi-court facilities, which makes it convenient for teams to play under one roof,” said Mark Thompson, founder and president of the USBA. “It helps when cities have other attractions for players and families. A good sports tourism department is great to have to help with logistics and tourism to make sure teams enjoy being in their city.”

Following are some U.S. regions with extensive experience in hosting basketball events.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau

Chicago Southland, Illinois
Chicago Southland has hosted numerous basketball events. In March 2019, the Toyota USA National Juniors & Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Association Championships were held at four venues, including the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, and attracted over 500 athletes. Other events include Nike Spring Showdown, which attracted more than 200 teams and 300 DI, DII and DIII coaches to five venues. Additionally, the region hosted Point Guard College, Zero Gravity Basketball, Chicago Steam (ABA), PrimeTime Sports Tournaments, Mid America Youth Basketball and North American Chinese Basketball Association Nationals.

For venues, there is the Southland Center, with 100,000 square feet of court space and a 17,000-square-foot special events room. There is also the Matteson Community Center, a 73,000-square-foot facility with six courts; Orland Park Sportsplex with three courts; and the Mokena Community Park District, which has seven gyms in two locations. The Chicago Southland CVB provides event planners with a variety of services.

“The CSCVB works hard to engage the region in upcoming events through various methods including social media, leveraging?media coverage, promoting events in guides and newsletters, and working with chambers of commerce,” said Katie Arvia of the Chicago Southland CVB.

For the off-hours, there is the Accelerate Indoor Speedway & Events in Mokena, the Brookfield Zoo, the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre as well as golf courses, nature centers and downtown Chicago. The region has 5,000 hotel rooms in more than 65 hotels.

Photo courtesy of Conway Convention and Visitors’ Bureau
Conway, Arkansas
In October of 2019, Conway’s Hendrix College hosted the JUCO Jamboree, an event for eight junior college teams from Arkansas and Tennessee. The event is a showcase for junior college talent as well as coaches from NCAA DI, DII, DIII, NAIA and other divisions. Next July, HoopPlay USA will hold its national tournament in Conway, and the city will host the 2020 Arkansas Home School State Tournament. Youth events have drawn as many as 316 teams and 900 spectators.

There are plenty of venues, including the McGee Center and Don Owen Sport Center, each of which has three courts. There is also Conway High School’s Buzz Bolding Arena, which seats 1,800, and the Farris Center at the University of Central Arkansas.

Conway has a thriving downtown with shops and restaurants, trampoline park and Zagster Bikeshare stations. The Reynolds Performing Arts Center hosts touring shows and concerts. The region is easily accessible off I-40 in Central Arkansas and has 1,400 hotel rooms. The local CVB offers a variety of services.

“We’ve provided funding to help cover the costs of marketing events to teams and expenses to pay for bringing in refs for tournaments,” said Rachel Shaw of the Conway CVB. “We also work with the facilities to secure dates and help secure room blocks.”

Photo courtesy of Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center
Deschutes County Fair and Expo, Redmond, Oregon
Deschutes County Fair and Expo has hosted NBA pre-season exhibition games as well as the Harlem Globetrotters but it gives youth teams the pro treatment too. Each year, the Western Middle School Basketball Association brings its Oregon Middle School State Championship Tournament, attracting 10,000 spectators.

Deschutes Fair & Expo’s First Interstate Bank Center features a hardwood NBA regulation court. For tournaments, six courts are installed on the 40,000 square-foot arena floor. There are three production offices, a first aid office, four locker/shower rooms, a 4,000 permanent-seat stadium and concessions, all set on 132 acres with a panorama of snowcapped mountain peaks. The region sees over 300 days of high desert sunshine a year, making it ideal for four-season recreation. Its proximity to Redmond and Bend provide options for dining and shopping.

Facility services include customized set-up of the arena as well as any additional meeting, workshop or meal function areas, according to Roxia Thornton Todoroff of Deschutes Fair & Expo.

“We work closely with our tourism partners and local CVBs to provide all area information and services for off-site hospitality and lodging,” she said. “We also assist with area promotions, including billboard advertising and social media promotion with Facebook and Instagram with a reach of 10,000 up to 80,000 impressions.”

Lincoln, NE, courtesy of Scott Bruhn
Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln is a regular host to NBA Pre-season events, State High School Championships, the Harlem Globetrotters, NCAA Women’s Regional Finals, and Nebraska Husker men’s and women’s college basketball. Some of these events have attracted in excess of 10,000 fans.
“We’re working with multiple youth basketball organizations to bring more events here in 2020 and beyond,” said Derek Bombeck of the Lincoln CVB.

Lincoln has several facilities to offer. There is the Speedway Village with eight courts; the recently constructed 93,500-square-foot Lincoln Sports Facility, which also has eight courts; the Pinnacle Bank Arena with one court and 15,000 seats, and the Bob Devaney Sports Center, with one main court and 8,000 seats. In addition, the Lincoln Sports Foundation Complex features four courts.

For after-hours, Lincoln has dining and shopping in the city’s Historic Haymarket and Railyard Entertainment District, and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo. The region features about 5,300 hotel rooms and is an easy drive-in location for most of the Midwest. The local CVB can help with event planning, according to Bombeck.

“We provide visitor information on the city, registration assistance, name badges, welcome banners, promotional items and welcome letters from local dignitaries,” he said. “We can also help with transportation arrangements, media and marketing assistance.”

Photo courtesy of Palm Beach
Palm Beach, Florida
Palm Beach County is a sports-oriented destination, and in recent years, has begun building a reputation for basketball. At the end of December, the region will host its Holiday Basketball Classic invitational that will feature 32 high school teams from across the country: 16 boys’ teams and 16 girls’ teams, broken into two divisions.

“Eight teams will compete in the national division and eight in our American division,” said Glen Allen of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. “We get a mix of out-of-state teams as well as three to four local schools that serve as our hosts. It’s an invite-only event, so we reach out to a mix of teams so we can get a high-quality tournament.”

The event uses local gyms and brings in between 6,000 and 7,000 spectators. Over the previous three years of the event, more than 25 youth athletes have signed Division I scholarships.

“Since it’s our event, we recruit the teams and staff the gyms,” said Allen. “We give a welcome party and press conference and provide gift bags. We work with local restaurants to prepare deals for them and set up hotel blocks with preferred rates at local hotels to make it as cost-effective as possible.”

For the off-hours, Palm Beach has 47 miles of white sandy beaches. The county also has an array of attractions, with more than 40 cultural venues, 12 major shopping destinations, 2,400 restaurants, 1,200 tennis courts and over 170 golf courses.

Photo courtesy of
Reno/Tahoe, Nevada
Each Memorial Day weekend, the Tahoe region hosts an AAU event called the Reno Memorial Day Basketball Tournament, part of the nationwide Jam On It tournament. The four-day event attracts between 900 and 1,100 teams from western states. The weekend prior to Memorial Day is the Shootout Event, which brings in between 50 and 60 teams. Also in May, the region hosts the AAU Girls District event, which provides opportunities for athletes to be seen by coaches during the NCAA viewing period. The region also recently finished a three-year run hosting the Big Sky Conference Championships, a Division I college conference that attracted more than 10,000 attendees.

“Cities get chosen because they’re in the right area and a good city for fans, and Reno fits that bill,” said Shelli Fine of the Reno-Sparks CVA. “Fans can come in and enjoy the basketball tournament but also all the entertainment.”

There are two venues: the 600,000- square-foot Reno Sparks Convention Center, which provides the Jam On It Tournament with space for up to 72 courts as well as concessions and breakout space, and the Reno Events Center, which seats up to 7,000 people and has two locker rooms with shower facilities.

Reno is uniquely situated for both outdoor and indoor events. It’s a gaming destination with 16,000 hotel rooms, but it’s also located at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe. Downtown Reno has the Riverwalk area with a park, an amphitheater, restaurants and shopping. The local CVB offers event planners a variety of services.

“We’ll do most everything except produce the event,” said Fine. “We’re a source for venues, hotels and services. We own and manage the Convention Center and the Event Center, and we have access to other sporting facilities. We also have a full-service marketing department.”

Photo courtesy of Rockford Register Star
Rockford, Illinois
Rockford continues to build its youth basketball tournament credentials. The city recently hosted the AAU Nationals (the 2018 Sixth Grade Girls Championships) for the first time. It also hosted the Illinois State Middle School Basketball Championships for boys and girls grades 4 to 8 for up to 120 teams. With the agreement extended through 2021, the State Championships are expected to bring more than 150 teams each year.

“We’re going beyond youth tournaments through a partnership with Rock Valley College and the National Junior College Athletic Association,” said Nick Nick Povalitis of the Rockford Area CVB. “We’ll welcome the 2020 NJCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship in March, and we’ll also host the 2021-23 NJCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship.”

Rockford features the UW Health Sports Factory, an eight-court, all-hardwood facility across the river from a new 159-room Embassy Suites. There is also the Rock Valley College’s PE Center, and the BMO Harris Bank Center. During the off-hours, the Rockford region has all the amenities of a big city destination on a smaller and more budget-friendly scale, including restaurants, museums, a theater, a water park and arcades.

“We provide proactive servicing programs to our clients—from hotel block negotiation, volunteer and staffing assignments, onsite hospitality assistance, welcome gifts, customized marketing programs and more,” said Povalitis.

Photo courtesy of Titan Sports Complex
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Tulsa hosted the NCAA basketball first and second rounds in 2011, 2017 and 2019, attracting as many as 15,000 fans, as well as the OSSAA 6A and 5A Basketball Championships and the Heartland Conference Men’s and Women’s Championships. It has also hosted the Tulsa Public Schools Tournament of Champions.

Tulsa features the Titan Sports Complex, a state-of-the-art indoor/outdoor complex. The indoor portion has capacity for eight basketball courts and includes a performance training center and meeting space. The city has several other arenas, including the award-winning BOK Center.

Tulsa is also home to hotels, restaurants and attractions to support players, families and fans. The Gathering Place, which covers 100 acres, includes the Chapman Adventure Playground, the Williams Lodge, a boathouse, splash playground, outdoor courts, a skate park and gardens. There are more than 15,000 hotel rooms, and the local CVB offers services from inception to post-event.

“We provide LOC development and organizing, hospitality assistance, lodging liaison services, volunteers and marketing assistance,” said Mark Hargis of the Tulsa Sports Commission. SDM

Butler County Welcomes Basketball
Butler County, Ohio, is known nationally for outstanding basketball venues and welcoming hospitality. From hosting large AAU national and regional basketball championships to smaller showcase tournaments, the staff at the Butler County Visitors Bureau brings a special touch to each event. First-class venues like 340,000-square-foot Millet Hall at Miami University as well as other regional venues offer flexibility for your next event. Close access to hotels, restaurants, convenient transportation and on-site assistance make Butler County a standout host destination. Start planning your next tournament in Butler County, Ohio, at

About the Author