The National Travel Basketball Association (NTBA) hosts basketball tournaments across the country for boys and girls from 3rd through 12th grades. With the tagline, “The Road to the Top Begins Here,” NTBA has held events that are successes for both athletes and destinations. John Whitley, NTBA’s president, sat down with SDM to discuss the organization and what it needs from potential hosts.
Sports Destination Management: How is business? Have you bounced back from 2020?
John Whitley: We’re actually really happy with the way things are going. We’re back to some of the 2019 numbers. Always a few issue here and there but I’d say we’re very close to getting through it and coming out on the other side.
SDM: How is the new season looking?
Whitley: It’s looking like we’re going to be completely sold out. The numbers are really good.
SDM: Do you feel like your players are getting attention from potential college coaches?
Whitley: Yes, we do. Our national championships are streamed through BallerTV and we see a lot of interest in the high school age teams from a lot of college coaches. It’s easier for coaches to log in and stream the games than it is to come in person; I think that’s really going to be a trend we’ll see in the future.
SDM: What are the numbers like for your big events?
Whitley: At Nationals, we’re seeing a total of 675 teams from 23 states.
SDM: Any idea of the economic impact?
Whitely: We split our national championships up over the course of three weeks, and in those three weeks, we can generate over $12 million for a destination.
SDM: How much of that is out-of-town teams?
Whitley: I would say 95 percent of those teams are from out of town, and they stay in the local accommodations, eat in the restaurants – they definitely bring in business.
SDM: Where are you seeing the most growth in tournament teams – at the high school level?
Whitley: I would say the middle school age groups are high growth. There’s a lot of new travel basketball on both the boys and girls side, and a lot of new teams are formed in those groups. From our end, we see high school travel basketball staying strong; it is still very popular.
SDM: We know it’s a co-ed sport but what is the girls’ side like?
Whitley: Very strong – we had just under 200 girls teams alone, representing 18 different states, in Myrtle Beach at our National Championships at the end of June.
SDM: Are parents glad their kids are back on the court?
Whitley: Yes – every single parent I have spoken to personally is so excited about their son or daughter being able to get out and be around friends; it’s a great social opportunity, too, and they missed it in 2020.
SDM: Any factors you’d see as a challenge to the sport’s growth?
Whitley: I would say that while there are a lot of opportunities for kids to play, it’s important that they play for coaches who are properly trained. The right coach can take them to the next level.
SDM: How many events is NTBA putting on?
Whitley: We’re averaging just under 100 events per year. We’re partnering up with the SFM Network for a mid-South fall series that will include five new events in some really nice, state-of-the-art multi-court facilities.
SDM: When you’re looking for a site for your events, how important is the multi-court venue?
Whitley: Obviously, it’s nice but it’s not the number-one consideration. It’s not a must-have. I would say the most important thing is a location with easy access – something that can draw from different areas. We want a facility that meets our standards and has regulation-size courts. We like to work with a CVB or sports commission that does a good job of communicating with us. The more and better communication we have, the more likely we are to want to start a working relationship with a destination.
SDM: How should potential locations contact NTBA?
Whitely: They can just reach out to me directly; my e-mail is email@example.com and our office number is 800-790-NTBA (6822).
SDM: One last question. Do you think basketball is topping out?
Whitley: No, I think there is still room to grow. I am certainly excited by the future of basketball.