For years, the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions has been a slam dunk for both local fans and for student-athletes in Springfield Public Schools.
Blue-chip college basketball recruits play in front of big crowds, and roughly $50,000 of tournament profits land directly in SPS athletics. Team uniforms, scoreboards, wrestling mats — you name it, and tournament money may have contributed.
Now, one year after setting an ambitious goal to match the record haul of $81,125 set in 2010, the SPS athletic director already is part of the way there as the 30th Tournament of Champions opens today at JQH Arena.
And that’s despite keeping ticket prices the same for the fourth consecutive year.
Already, $15,000 is assured through new sponsorships, whose signage will be on display in front of the team benches and along the base lines, SPS Athletic Director Mark Fisher said. The signage in those locations will be a first.
“Hopefully we can keep tickets affordable,” Fisher said, adding: “You just have to continue to be ambitious, not just to improve sponsorship dollars but to ensure your fan base for the next 20 years.”
The tournament’s hook has long been the chance to see future stars: About 300 have gone to play NCAA Division I, including 46 in the National Basketball Association. This year’s tournament features 18 Division I commitments, a record, as well as two teams highly ranked in USA TODAY — No. 1 Montverde (Fla.) and No. 3 White Station of Memphis, Tenn.
Tickets are $10 daily for adults and $7 for students, while reserved seating is $36 for a three-day pass and $12 for a one-day pass. But in a town where many compete for sponsorship dollars, particularly the city’s college sports teams as well as the Springfield Cardinals, Fisher has had to put on his best salesman hat — as mostly a one-man fundraising army.
It’s understandable. The Tournament of Champions competes for teams against other national high school tournaments such as one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and part of the goal — beyond putting on a good show for fans and for teams — is generating a profit for SPS athletics.
Tournament expenses last year reached $156,894, Fisher noted. Much of that was devoted to airline tickets for out-of-town teams, hotels and rental of JQH Arena. But last year, the tournament made $44,780.
Given the increasing expenses, 11 more sponsors have been secured, to go along with longtime sponsors Bass Pro Shops and Chevy Dealers of the Ozarks.
The displays are even more prominent considering the eye-catching video boards at JQH Arena, and Bass Pro again facilitated a contract with CBS Sports, which will televise both Friday’s semifinals and Saturday night’s championship game, set for 8:30 p.m. Fisher should get a pat on the back for maintaining longtime sponsors and securing additional dollars, said Edsel Matthews, the former SPS athletic director who oversaw the Tournament of Champions from 1984 to 2003.
Larry Whiteley, a longtime spokesman for Bass Pro Shops and still involved with the tournament, concurs.
“He and his team are great to work with,” Whiteley said. “It’s like family almost. We look forward to working with them every year.”
“Bass Pro has been a great host,” Matthews said. “They came up with enough money and enough hospitality that it costs teams nothing to come in and play. It’s been a real economic help for Springfield Public Schools.”
Because expenses continue increasing, Fisher continues to explore new ways to gain sponsorship dollars. Group sales remain a target, but the effort had to be shelved this past year.
“It’s not about making money, but bringing kids from other areas for us to see their skills,” Fisher said. “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact of all the players and all the talent on the teams. But if we have an opportunity to help (SPS athletics), we need to take advantage of it.”