Basketball tournaments thrive in Springfield to business' benefit

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The first weekend of the MSHSAA state basketball tournament in Springfield nearly matched the entire two weeks’ worth of attendance in Columbia last year, according to the Springfield Sports Commission.

The commission’s executive director, Lance Kettering, says that the Class 1-3 tournament in Springfield drew an estimated 28,000 fans over its three days. He says that the total attendance for all five classes in Columbia last year was 32,000.

“Well, [it’s thanks to] a lot of preparation, and it's all in advance,” Kettering said. “Working with the hotels to make sure that our MSHSAA member schools are taken care of for their team rooms, and at the same time the [National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championship] that's been [coming to] town for 10 years has a stronghold on getting accommodations.”

The NCHBC brings another 10,000 or so visitors to Springfield. Tim Flatt, the tournament’s co-director, believes that adds about $5-7 million in local revenue.

“We came up here because of the size of the city, we love how enthusiastic sports fans are in this city,” Flatt said. “We came here and fell in love with the city and it's worked out great for us.”

And for local businesses. Bill Hobbs of Elliot Lodging, which partners with the Springfield Sports Commission to offer participating teams discounted hotel rooms, says that between the two tournaments this week, his 13 hotels were at max capacity.

“Which, for March, is very, very good,” Hobbs said.

His cooperation, as well as the sports commission’s overall bid, helped lure the MSHSAA tournament away from Columbia and to Springfield for the first time since 1991.

“The thing that pushed Springfield over the top was the support they were willing to offer to the basketball tournament to bring it to Springfield,” MSHSAA executive director, Dr. Kerwin Urhahn, said. “The other thing is simply working with the hotels and the restaurants in the community, because that's where our fans are going to be eating and staying and spending money. We want them to be treated fairly as well as to know that they are welcome here.”

He says he’s not surprised to see the attendance jump, particularly in the small school championships, because Springfield has a tradition of supporting high school tournaments.

“In the two weekends that we've been down here, every place I go as soon as they see our logo they say, 'oh you're here for the basketball tournament,'” Dr. Urhahn said. “They know what's going on, and that feeling is a welcoming feeling.”

These tournaments aren’t going anywhere. Both MSHSAA and NCHBC are contracted to stay in Springfield until at least 2022.

“It's very exciting, and I think the community should thank the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and sports commission for their efforts, and we're looking forward to it,” Hobbs said. “I think it'll be a great time.”