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Home Court Advantage

Tournament Organizer BasketBull is Generating Net Results
The team at BasketBull: from left, Patrick Fisher, Molly Dullea, Colin Tabb, and Chris Sparks.

The team at BasketBull: from left, Patrick Fisher, Molly Dullea, Colin Tabb, and Chris Sparks.

Using the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a drawing card, a still-developing business venture called BasketBull is bringing thousands of young players to Springfield and other area communities for tournaments, thus filling hundreds of hotel rooms and providing business for other hospitality-related businesses, including the Hall, in the process. There are ambitious growth plans on the table, according to general manager Colin Tabb, who believes his company has a winning formula.

Colin Tabb says there are two rather unofficial “missions” for the company called BasketBull, LLC — named in part for his grandfather (more on that later) — which he serves as general manager.

The first, as it states on the back of Tabb’s business card, is to “organize competitive AAU tournaments, thus providing players of all ages and ability the chance to learn and compete at the highest level and develop to their fullest potential.”

The second mission — equally important, but in a much different way — is to help “make Springfield ‘Basketball City,’” said Tabb, a former college shooting guard who played professionally overseas for several seasons before shifting gears career-wise. He believes this fledgling company is well on its way to accomplishing that lofty goal, through a partnership with the sport’s Hall of Fame and an ambitious business plan that outlines net results on several levels.

Started as a part-time venture for Tabb and the principals who created it — his uncles, Mike and Bob Martin — BasketBull, now occupying space on the 15th floor of One Financial Plaza, arranges Amateur Athletic Union tournaments at various sites across Western Mass. and elsewhere, with the championship games often played on Center Court at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

These tournaments have names like ‘HoopHall Invitational,’ ‘New England Elite Showcase,’ ‘End of Summer Blowout,’ ‘New England Best of the Best,’ and ‘Columbus Day Challenge.’ They have brought, or will bring, between 60 and 1,800 players to the host city (usually Springfield, but others have been played in locales ranging from Amherst to Chicago), with that number usually somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

And by doing so, these events have helped bring thousands of additional visitors to the Hall of Fame, while also filling hotel rooms, seats in restaurants, and rides at Six Flags, thus making BasketBull, the official organization for all basketball-related events associated with the Hall, an economic driver as much as it is an organizer of hoop tournaments.

From a business perspective, says Tabb, a political science major still learning many of the ins and outs of running a company, BasketBull is hitting or exceeding the numbers laid out in a business plan that has seen several revisions in only a few years.

The business model is fairly simple: teams are charged entrance fees (averaging $400 or so) to participate in the various tournaments, revenues that currently exceed expenses that range from rental fees paid to area colleges and high schools to use their gyms to hiring game officials to insurance. The immediate goals are to increase the number of events — there appears to be strong growth potential with girls’ tournaments, for example — and maximize revenues from each one, said Tabb, who told BusinessWest that he and his staff members are aggressively exploring expansion strategies, including plans to become more national in scope.

There are several competitors in what would be considered a relatively new business sector, said Tabb, but none that can really offer what BasketBull can — a chance to play a game on a court where players can look up and see the plaques of Hall of Fame inductees.

“It’s really a unique opportunity to play at the Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s something players and coaches will remember long after the games are over.”

In this issue, BusinessWest looks at how this intriguing company intends to capitalize on this home-court advantage, and thus create new opportunities — for BasketBull, Springfield, the Hall of Fame, and other hospitality-related businesses.

Court of Opinion

Tabb said the inspiration for BasketBull came in large part from a venture often referred to as the Field of Dreams — Cooperstown Dreams Park is the actual name of the facility — which stages baseball tournaments at a large complex of diamonds near, but not part of, the Baseball Hall of Fame in that New York hamlet.

“Our model is very similar to that in the sense that we want to use the Hall of Fame as a drawing card,” Tabb explained, “and try to make Springfield more of a basketball town, a basketball city in America.”

The success of the Cooperstown initiative prompted Basketball Hall of Fame officials to approach Mike and Bob Martin — the former the athletic director for Springfield schools and the latter a long-time basketball referee and supervisor of officials — in 2004 to see if there was any interest in putting on events that would, among other things, create more foot traffic for the Hall.

There was.

What emerged was a small start-up that would take the name BasketBull, LLC, a tribute of sorts to Tabb’s grandfather, William Martin, a former basketball star at Providence College and long-time Springfield police chief, who was nicknamed ‘Bull.’

“It seemed like a good fit, and it makes a lot more sense when we explain it,” joked Tabb, who joined the company with the assignment of taking it to the next level. He brings to that task a varied background, including knowledge of the local sports market — be was raised in Springfield — and a passion for the game. After playing college ball at Trinity in Hartford, where he earned Division III first-team All American honors, he played professionally in Germany and Ireland before eventually taking a job as assistant coach at Brandeis University in Wellesley. He was in that post when he got the call from his uncles to join them in their entrepreneurial venture.

As he explained the basic business model behind BasketBull, Tabb said there are thousands of AAU teams, or clubs, around the country comprised of boys and girls of all ages. Locally, there are clubs affiliated with the Dunbar Community Center and South End Community Center, for example, he said.

These clubs practice during the week and, if they are so inclined, play in tournaments on the weekend, Tabb continued, adding that many are willing to travel (within driving distances, usually, but some will actually get on planes) to compete in events; for the Hall of Fame Junior Nationals (June 26-28 in Springfield), teams from North Carolina and Texas have signed on.

Event organizers do well when they have some kind of hook, he explained, adding that, for BasketBull, it is the sport’s shrine, which can comfortably sit 150 to 200 people for a title game on its not-quite-regulation-size court.

“It’s a great draw,” said Tabb, who noted that BasketBull uses E-mail blasts, phone calls to AAU coaches, and other vehicles to bring attention to its events — and people to Springfield.

Points of Interest

While BasketBull is still clearly in its developmental stage, it is already compiling some fairly impressive statistics.

For example, an event staged in Springfield in mid-May called the Spring Classic brought 170 teams (137 of them from outside the state) and 2,136 competitors to the City of Homes, said Patrick Fisher, marketing director for the company, who keeps spreadsheets detailing the company’s impact on the region. Total visitors numbered nearly 5,000, he continued, and nearly 200 admission tickets were purchased for the Hall of Fame.

Patrick has grand totals projected for the 2009 season, which will include 22 events, 14 of them in Springfield. Together, they will involve 860 teams (218 from Massachusetts and 632 from out of state) and 11,485 participants. The games will bring a projected 16,144 spectators and 30,689 total visitors to the area. They will purchase 1,070 room nights and nearly 2,000 tickets to the Hall of Fame.

“Sometimes, it’s the players and a coach coming in a van,” said Tabb, noting that teams usually put several players in a hotel room. “But many times, mom, dad, and the grandparents will come to the tournament as well; it varies from team to team. We’re impacting a number of area businesses, and we expect those numbers to continue increasing in the years to come.”

The impact on restaurants and other tourist attractions is somewhat difficult to quantify, Tabb continued, but there is no doubt that the tournaments are helping a number of chain family eateries as well as attractions like Six Flags.

Looking down the road, Tabb said the obvious goals are to broaden the schedule and expand geographically, thus building the BasketBull brand and providing long-term viability. “There’s only so much you can do in this region, the New England area,” he explained. “There’s only so many times teams are going to come to Springfield to play in a tournament and visit the Basketball Hall of Fame.”

The plan is to establish regional sites across the country, he continued, and have, in many instances, the regional winners and runners up come to Springfield and play in what would be called a national final.

There are currently 14 events on BasketBull’s local slate for 2009 — 10 for boys and four for girls — and the goal is to have 30 to 35 on the schedule within five years, said Tabb, adding that there will be a heightened focus on the girls’ side of the ledger, which has strong growth potential.

To reach it, the company has brought on Molly Dullea, who takes the title ‘girls director,’ and is focusing specifically on adding events to the calendar. Her counterpart on the boys side, Chris Sparks, has a similar assignment.

There will be some logistical challenges to accomplishing all this, said Tabb, noting that the company currently uses a number of venues, including AIC, Springfield College, Holyoke Community College, and several high schools, but could use more.

One potential re-use of the former York Street Jail site is as a home for events such as those staged by BasketBull — an option mentioned often by city economic-development officials. Tabb said such a venue would solve many of his problems, but BasketBull would not be the entity to build such a complex.

In the meantime, the company’s staff is splitting its attention and energies between work to ensure that this year’s scheduled events go off as well as possible and efforts to expand the slate for 2010.

“We’ve got one eye on this year’s tournaments and the other on 2010 and beyond,” he said. “Next year is going to be pivotal for us in terms of building our brand.”

At the Buzzer

As he took a few shots while taking part in a photo shoot at the Hall of Fame, Tabb swept his arms across Center Court and said, “what a great venue for a championship game.”

Indeed, the Hall is proving to be the drawing card that those at BasketBull and the shrine thought it would be.

There is considerable growth potential for this venture, said Tabb, but still considerable work to be done before Springfield can truly be called ‘Basketball City.’ However, he thinks his team is up for the challenge, and can grab the bull by the horns. n

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

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