The STOP-DWI Holiday Classic as basketball aficionados have come to embrace it is but a memory.
The late-December tournament conducted annually in Binghamton since 1992 will no longer stage National Division competition and will relocate from the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
The decision, which will make for a considerable downgrade in the caliber of talent on display, was made known to tournament committee members in an email from Broome County STOP-DWI program coordinator Chris Marion distributed Thursday afternoon.
Bottom line? It’s about the bottom line.
The email stated, in part, “Many factors were involved in making this decision including cost of the travel, lodging, and meals; the decline in paid attendance; and our ability to raise enough sponsorship dollars to name a few.”
Plans call for an eight-team, two-day tournament to be held beginning mid-January 2016 at Binghamton High School, with continuation of the Region I (large schools) and Region II (small schools) format that has been in place as well as retention of the accompanying message regarding the dangers of substance abuse and impaired driving.
The tournament has since 1997 featured an eight-team National Division to go with two four-team Regional Divisions. National Division participants have included visitors from Alaska, California, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and Florida.
The tournament’s 2014 edition marked the last in a three-year title sponsorship agreement with Mirabito Energy Products. Mirabito will likely become one of three presenting sponsors of what may be renamed the STOP-DWI Winter Classic, Marion said.
The greatest contributing factor to elimination of the tournament’s marquee attraction was declining attendance. Tickets purchased for the 23rd edition of the event last Dec. 27-30 totaled 2,975, down from 5,189 in 2009 and the second time in a three-year span the total fell short of 3,000.
“We took in about $26,500 on ticket sales. The tournament costs just over $95,000 to put on, not including all the donated services,” said Marion, who added that average gate attendance in the period from five to 10 years ago amounted to $40,000 per year.
Not only do the event’s coffers take a tangible hit with dwindling attendance, but thousands of unoccupied Arena seats per session make for something less than the desired look and feel of a venue from a sponsor’s perspective.
For eight National Division entrants (20 people per team), the STOP-DWI Holiday Classic provided lodging for three nights — and a fourth for the tournament finalists — meals from arrival through departure, local transportation and reimbursement for travel expenses to and from school up to $1,500.
Visitors have regularly lauded the tournament and its organizers for hospitality provided, facilities, level of competition and, foremost in the opinion of numerous coaches and administrators, its ability to weave a potentially life-saving message into the fabric of high-level basketball.
Discontinuation of the tournament as whole was considered, Marion said. But following consultation with tournament committee members and Binghamton High School staff, it was decided that Broome County STOP-DWI should continue to back a high school basketball tournament of some fashion.
And so the present blueprint calls for a two-division, eight-team, eight-game event — “To host a top-level regional tournament that is more within our means,” Marion said. “We can do it for, say, $12-$14,000 instead of $95-$100,000.”
The new-look Classic may present two divisions each including three Section 4 teams and one from beyond sectional boundaries — Albany, Syracuse and Westchester County mentioned by Marion as among areas from which to draw. His preference is to conduct the tournament on Saturday and Sunday prior to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On Twitter: @PSBKevin