Full-Court Press | Sports Destination Management

Full-Court Press

Venues Nationwide are Benefitting from Basketball’s Participation Growth
Jan 02, 2024 | By: Peter Francesconi

Basketball has led all team sports in total participation growth since 2019, with a three-year increase of 13 percent, according to data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association's 2023 Participation Report. The sport's 2022 total of 28.1 million U.S. participants ages six and up is an increase of 3.7 percent from the year before and is well ahead of participation totals in all team sports measured by the SFIA (baseball is a distant second with 15.5 million U.S. participants).


In addition, while nearly every other team sport has seen a decrease in “play occasions” over the three years from 2019 to 2022 (keep in mind pandemic restrictions), basketball has seen a three-year increase in the number of play opportunities, to 930 million, which, while just a 0.2 percent boost over three years, is a 0.5 percent increase from 2021 to 2022.


All this means that basketball continues to be popular for players of all ages, and especially youth. And with that, basketball facilities continue to improve and grow throughout the country.


Billings, Montana

Billings, MT | Photo Courtesy of Visit Billings
Billings, MT | Photo Courtesy of Visit Billings

“In Billings, basketball tournaments serve as a pivotal economic driver,” says Evan Decker, sports tourism manager for Visit Billings. “We’re fortunate to have many youth tournaments, like those produced by Big Sky Ballin’ or the Montana High School Association state tournaments. But Billings has also hosted large collegiate tournaments, like the NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship that brings hoopers out to Big Sky Country from across the country.”


Venues available include the Alterowitz Gymnasium at Montana State University-Billings, home to the MSUB Yellowjackets, with its 4,000-seat arena and weight room facilities. The Fortin Education Center at Rocky Mountain College, with its 2,000-seat First Interstate Court, was renovated in 2019 and is home to the Battlin’ Bears men’s and women’s basketball teams. The center also has two weight rooms and a cardio training room. The multi-purpose First Interstate Arena at MetraPark, the fairgrounds of Billings, has a capacity of 10,500 spectators.


Billings, the largest city in Montana, is a vibrant urban destination with more than 4,000 hotel rooms, dozens of restaurants and plenty of nonstop flights from 10 major hubs. Big Sky Country, with its small towns, big ranches and unending horizons, contains some of America’s most iconic sites and attractions, all close at hand, including Yellowstone National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Mount Rushmore, Glacier National Park and much more.

Casper, Wyoming

Casper, Wyoming | Photo Courtesy of City of Visit Casper
Casper, Wyoming | Photo Courtesy of City of Visit Casper

Construction started in June 2023 on the 130,000-square-foot Wyo Sports Ranch indoor complex, which is slated to open in 2025 with 10 courts for basketball. The facility will have movable bleacher seating around each court, as well as concessions and a physical therapy/sports training area.


“Basketball in Casper is at a tipping point,” says Wayne Stewart of Visit Casper. “It has grown so much that a facility like the Wyo Sports Ranch was necessary not just for our community, but also for the Rocky Mountain region. Casper is already and will continue to be a basketball and youth sports hub for the state of Wyoming and the surrounding region.”


Casper has played host to several youth travel team tournaments with up to 200 teams. The city also will host the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Women’s DI National Basketball Championships in 2024 and 2025, bringing teams from across the country.


Facilities available for basketball tourneys include the Ford Wyoming Center, which can accommodate two courts seat 8,000 spectators, with full concessions and meeting spaces. Casper College also has two gyms, one with seats for more than 1,000, another with seating for 250. And the Casper Recreation Center has two courts. Many larger events take advantage of seven gyms in the Natrona County Schools, including two high school gyms with seating for more than 3,000 each.


Visit Casper can help tournament owners with financial assistance, sponsorships, marketing, hotel logistics, event volunteers, transportation solutions and more.


Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fort Wayne, IN | Photo Courtesy of City of Visit Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne, IN | Photo Courtesy of City of Visit Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne has been a hub of youth basketball activity in the Midwest for decades. “Our nationally recognized basketball organizations continue to set the bar for high-caliber tournaments,” says Emily Hill of Visit Fort Wayne.


The NCAA DIII Men’s Basketball Championships have been held in Fort Wayne since 2019 and will continue through 2026, and the LBAA (Lutheran Basketball Association of America) Nationals will be held once again in March. The Ladies Ball Midwest Regional tournament came to town in 2022 and 2023. Gym Rats Basketball brings an average of 3,000 youngsters to Fort Wayne on weekends from November through March, and other marquee events include the Bill Hensley Memorial Run N Slam, with 10,000 attendees in May. The new year will see the Queen of Rock Classic and the 2024 National Wheelchair Basketball Association Women’s and Military National Championships.


The SportONE/Parkview Fieldhouse offers eight high school regulation basketball courts, along with spectator seating, locker rooms, on-site parking and a 100-seat restaurant. The Plassman Athletic Center in Turnstone is an Olympic/Paralympic Training Facility, with four basketball courts, seating for 500, concessions, locker rooms and more. The 173,000-square-foot Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons Athletics Center has six NCAA DI regulation courts, locker rooms, seating for more than 600 fans and concessions. And the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, with its NBA regulation court, is a 13,000-seat arena.


Gainesville, Florida

Gainesville, FL | Photo Courtesy of Gainesville Sports Commission
Gainesville, FL | Photo Courtesy of Gainesville Sports Commission

The new, 130,000-square-foot Alachua County Sports and Events Center has 10 permanent indoor basketball courts, with seating for 3,500 spectators, breakout rooms and concessions. Located in Celebration Pointe, the Alachua Center is within walking distance to restaurants, shopping, movie theaters and a hotel.


The 292,000-square-foot Stephen C. O’Connell Center can seat 10,500 in the main arena and is home to the University of Florida Gators men’s and women’s basketball teams. And the Legacy Park Multipurpose Center offers 30,000 square feet of wood floor space with four courts, movable bleachers, breakout rooms and concessions.


Among recent basketball events in Gainesville is the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches’ Conrad Foss Live Event Showcase, which brings in more than 180 teams and university and college basketball coaches. An AAU Invitational event features 70 teams, and the Insider Exposure FL Tournament Series attracts more than 50 teams.

VisitGainesville offers information to showcase the area’s attractions, local restaurants and hotels and can customize a guide specific to the event dates. The Gainesville Sports Commission can help with hotel rooms, securing the facility, volunteers, hospitality and event management.


“Being centrally located in the state of Florida and in close proximity to surrounding states, Alachua County is a premier destination to host basketball tournaments,” says Joleen Cacciatore Miller, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission. “The community offers that college town charm and excitement to make your participants feel like champions.”


Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, TN | Photo Courtesy of Memphis Sports Council
Memphis, TN | Photo Courtesy of Memphis Sports Council

Memphis is a basketball town. “From grassroots to high school to cheering on the University of Memphis Tigers or the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, Memphis lives and breathes hoops,” says JJ Greer, director of sports & events for the Memphis Sports Council. “This passion for basketball is exemplified through the Memphis Sports Council’s efforts to attract and retain the best basketball event operators in the world to world-class facilities.”


Key venues include the 227,000-square-foot Memphis Sports and Events Center, which opened a year ago with 16 basketball courts with spectator seating for 2,500. The center is in Liberty Park, the city’s historic fairgrounds area that is being developed as a sports and events hub.


In the Memphis suburb of Cordova, the new P7 Sports Academy has five basketball courts. The Renasant Convention Center in the heart of downtown Memphis, which recently underwent a $200 million renovation, is a riverfront venue with 300,000 square feet and can accommodate 14 basketball courts.


The city has hosted events with more than 200 teams and thousands of players and spectators. Upcoming tourneys include the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March.


Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, SC | Photo Courtesy of City of Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance
Myrtle Beach, SC | Photo Courtesy of City of Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance

Youth basketball is one of the main sports tourism drivers for Myrtle Beach. Each year, the city hosts several events with the National Travel Basketball Association (NTBA), including their girls and boys championships, which bring in over 600 teams. “We also partner with Big Shots and host several of their NCAA-certified events, bringing in 300 teams,” says Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance.


Visit Myrtle Beach partners with ESPN Events for the Division I Men’s NCAA Myrtle Beach Invitational, held the week before Thanksgiving. And for the past 42 years, Myrtle Beach has hosted one of the premier high school holiday tournaments, the Beach Ball Classic, played on a wood floor at the 5,000-seat Myrtle Beach Convention Center and featuring 16 high school teams from across the U.S. In recent years, a girls’ division was added.


The main indoor facility for youth basketball events is the 100,000-square-foot John T. Rhodes Myrtle Beach Sports Center, which can accommodate up to eight courts on a wood floor surface. The facility has flexible seating for up to 2,500 and offers several meeting and team rooms.


Additional facilities along the Grand Strand include the J. Bryan Floyd Community Center in North Myrtle Beach, featuring two courts, and various high school and recreation center gyms. For collegiate events, the city partners with Coastal Carolina University’ HTC Center, which has seating for 3,400, six locker rooms, hospitality areas and video boards.


Rockford, Illinois

Rockford, IL | Photo Courtesy of City of Rockford Area CVB
Rockford, IL | Photo Courtesy of City of Rockford Area CVB

The UW Health Sports Factory is the Rockford region’s largest basketball facility, with eight hardwood courts, along with a championship court. The mezzanine area includes concessions, and the second floor has four meeting rooms and a full-service restaurant with a patio overlooking the Rock River. The 108,000-square-foot facility has hosted youth through collegiate basketball tournaments, such as the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.


The facility also includes a Riverwalk around the building. “A large basketball hoop, 10 feet in diameter and 30 feet high, adorns the riverfront and serves as a great photo opportunity for teams,” says Lindsay Arellano of the Rockford Area CVB.


The Rockford region also has hosted a variety of tournaments such as the NJCAA Men’s and Women’s Division III National Championships, Illinois State Middle School Basketball Championships, AAU 6th Grade Girls National Championship, Junior NBA and The Chicagoland Summer Classic.


The CVB works with tourney directors in many ways, from helping plan opening ceremonies, to sourcing hotels, onsite servicing, media relations, VIP gifts and more.


Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Rocky Mount, NC | Photo Courtesy of City of William Manley/Rocky Mount Event Center
Rocky Mount, NC | Photo Courtesy of City of William Manley/Rocky Mount Event Center

The Rocky Mount Event Center, located downtown, is the premier basketball destination for the region. The sports facility, which attracts teams from around the country, utilizes more than 75,000 square feet of uninterrupted playing space to contain up to eight hardwood basketball courts, with an option to convert the floor plan to a master court for championship games. The Event Center can seat more than 4,000 and has full-menu concessions areas. (If a team would like a special meal, they can arrange it with the RMEC catering department.)


“When we host tournaments, we often get compliments on our Game Day Adventure & Arcade area, which offers rock climbing, a ropes course and arcade and is great for families and players to enjoy off the court,” says RMEC Marketing Manager Ashley Pittman. “For adults, we have a bar, and during events, we’ll open up our banquet room as a lounge area for players, teams and families.”


Rocky Mount is an hour’s drive from the Raleigh-Durham Airport and is easily accessible from I-95 and U.S. 64. And it has a lot to offer visitors, including the Imperial Centre for Arts and Sciences, which is home to the Children’s Museum and Science Center, Cummins Planetarium, Howard Arts Center and a 250-seat theater. SDM

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