High school basketball season is in full swing, and with it comes a plethora of multiday tournaments – several of which bring out-of-town teams and money – equating to millions in economic spending in the Queen City over the next few months.
Most of the tournaments take place in the holiday season, spanning late November through December, including the Arvest Classic, Pink and White Lady Classic, and the Blue and Gold Tournament. A couple of notable exceptions are the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, scheduled Jan. 11-13, 2024, and the National Christian HomeSchool Basketball Championships, set for March 11-15.
While Springfield Public Schools isn’t involved in the annual home-school event, which has been held in Springfield since 2009, the school district is center stage for the Tournament of Champions. January marks the 39th year for the tourney, which Lance Kettering, executive director of the Springfield Sports Commission, said draws an attendance of roughly 24,000 at Great Southern Bank Arena over three nights.
“It’s grown into the largest-attended high school tournament in America, gets national media attention and has teams from across the country that certainly call Springfield Public Schools wanting to be on the list to be showcased every year,” Kettering said. “That’s the big feather in our cap for Springfield.”
The event has drawn high schoolers who became future NBA talent, such as Alonzo Mourning, Lamar Odom, Jayson Tatum and former Kickapoo High School standout Anthony Tolliver, who had a 14-year professional career that ended in 2021.
This year’s eight-team field includes squads from California, Georgia and New York. Kettering said up to 1,100 room nights are expected annually with direct economic spending estimated at roughly $500,000.
It’s a busy time for Josh Scott, SPS athletics director. There’s hardly a weekend on the calendar during the next couple months where SPS isn’t involved in coordinating a hoops tournament.
“You could easily say Springfield Public Schools has a hand in at least 10 tournaments just for basketball,” he said.
While SPS gives attention to all the tournaments it is involved in, Scott said the Tournament of Champions is “a complete and totally different monster.”
“We bring in five of the best teams in the country that we can find, one regional team and two local teams,” he said, adding every team is promised 20 tickets, which covers players, coaches and managers. “We budget for each team, and that’s kind of a moving target because it depends on where you’re flying them in from.”
Declining to disclose the school district’s investment in the Tournament of Champions, Scott said it partners with event sponsors, such as naming-level sponsor Bass Pro Shops, Chevy Dealers of the Ozarks and Great Southern Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GSBC), to help cover costs. He said sponsors receive reserved tickets in the lower bowl of the arena over the three days, free attendance to the press conference announcing the event’s bracket and a breakfast involving the teams’ coaches.
“It’s a nice community partnership that we have,” he said.
Officials with Bass Pro and Great Southern Bank didn’t respond to interview requests by press time.
In April, the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. honored the Tournament of Champions at its 2023 Toast to Tourism event, previously known as the Salute to Travel & Tourism Awards Banquet. The tournament was recognized with the Ambassador Award, which goes to individuals or organizations that generate significant economic impact for the area by working to encourage tourism or secure a major convention or event to town.
While the Tournament of Champions brings in six out-of-area teams, Kettering said the economic spending associated with the National Christian HomeSchool Basketball Championships is even more significant, as it draws around 350 teams each year – 95% of which come from outside Springfield. The Springfield Sports Commission estimates 8,000-10,000 room nights per year, which annually generates roughly $5.4 million for the event in economic spending. The contract for the event runs through 2025.
“We’re in talks for a multiyear extension,” he said.
The direct economic spending for the annual Arvest Classic, which concluded its three-day run Dec. 2, is estimated at around $80,000, Kettering said. The estimate is based on the six out-of-town squads in the eight-team field staying an average of two nights, accounting for 120 room nights. This year’s tournament was the eighth for the event, which started in 2015 and skipped 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Jason England, president and CEO of Arvest Springfield, said this year’s lineup mirrored last year’s tournament, which included Rogers Heritage High School in Arkansas and De Smet Jesuit High School from St. Louis.
“The majority of our support is paying for lodging and food for these teams we bring in from out of the area,” England said, adding the bank annually budgets around $25,000 for the event. “We would guess we’ve spent close to $150,000 since 2015, accounting that costs have gone up for food and lodging.”
Chandler Johnston, Arvest Springfield’s community marketing manager, said the teams stayed at DoubleTree by Hilton while Colton’s Steak House & Grill catered the hospitality room at Kickapoo High School, where the event was held. Scott said SPS was responsible for supplying the tournament’s officials and game staff.
Arvest’s involvement goes beyond sponsoring the event as England said the bank supplies numerous volunteers, including himself, to make sure things run smoothly.
“Our marketing team lines up special events, so we give prizes out, where we pick out a couple of kids during halftime or timeouts and have them shoot for gift cards,” he said. “We try to make it a fun atmosphere.”
England said the annual tournament is Arvest’s way to invest in the community. Additionally, he said the event – much like the Tournament of Champions – serves as an invitation for others to come visit Springfield.
“Most of our associates – myself included – are products of the public school system,” he said. “So, we want to give back to where the majority of our associates have their kids. This was a way we could support public education in a way that was unique.”
Scott said the tournaments also show out-of-towners how good the basketball scene is in southwest Missouri.
“We take it very seriously that we are kind of caretakers of these tournaments and the impact on southwest Missouri as a whole,” he said. “It helps keep Springfield on the map as a basketball hub in the state.”
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