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The Main Event: Spalding Hoophall Basketball Classic

By Selena Fragassi


Now in its 15th year, Springfield College has mastered hosting the Spalding Hoophall Classic, ensuring nothing but net success for everyone involved.

The game of basketball was invented on the Massachusetts campus of Springfield College. So, it was only logical that the annual Spalding Hoophall Classic High School Invitational—featuring 50-plus teams made up of the sport’s next stars—would take center court here.

“It’s really become a partnership between the [Naismith Memorial] Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield College, in a symbolic way, too, since the inventor of basketball was actually on our faculty,” says Director of Conferences and Special Events Katherine Smith, recalling how Dr. James Naismith created the game 125 years ago. He was tasked with coming up with an “athletic distraction” after a brutal Northeast winter left many of his students rowdy. The rest, as they say, is history.

Though weather can be a concern for the Spalding Hoophall Classic, which draws players from all over the country in the middle of January, it has never been sidelined by any winter storms. “We couldn’t afford to have that happen, especially on televised game days,” says Smith who even remembers the one time her staff had to drive to the airport to retrieve lost luggage that contained necessary uniforms.

“The major growth of the event has been in the ability to get national TV coverage,” says Greg Procino, Vice President of Operations for the Basketball Hall of Fame. In fact, the ESPN networks have covered much of the five-day program since 2005. “That, in turn, has expanded interest in viewership and for fans who come to the games.”

It’s an important point for Springfield College that has not only weathered great increases in attendance—last year alone 8,000 tickets were sold and 140 media credentials distributed—but also increased the venue’s profile with a spotlight on the college. That includes ad space in the official program book and a 30-second national television spot; to that end, the college just went through a rebranding process that produced a new logo and banners for the long weekend.

“We are on the map for five days, and we take that very seriously in how we execute all the details,” says Smith, noting that the planning process is a 12-month cycle working in tandem with the Basketball Hall of Fame just as the current year wraps up. “It really becomes a microcosm of everything we do best with all our conferences, and we try to showcase that.”

For this particular event, that means constantly being on-site providing customer service, making connections for new business, “even picking up litter in the aisles if it will make the venue look better,” she jokes. She’s also come up with new ideas in recent years such as turning the jogging track above the main arena into a hospitality area.

Though the college is not in session at the time of the Spalding Hoophall Classic, Smith ensures grounds crews are available to clear sidewalks and parking lots, organizes a shuttle system, and also hires 40 part-timers to help with manpower since the program involves not only the games but also meals and concessions, sponsor activation, and facilitating large production crews (everyone is housed offsite at nearby hotels). The event has also been used in recent years as a learning lab for sports management majors who make up additional volunteers.

“We have a lot of moving parts we have to accommodate internally and externally, and I think we have put together a super team,” says Smith, acknowledging the comfortability that comes with having a repeat annual event. “There’s less time spent triple checking some of those details because everyone knows their role.”

Procino agrees. “The working team between the Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield College has been pretty much the same group of people for a number of years so we all know how each other works. Because of the strong partnership, any challenges we have encountered have been easily fixed.” Plus, he says, the venue is perfect—beyond even those historical facets. “The college is cozy but big enough to accommodate our crowds. We use every ounce of space and jam it in there so it feels like something is really happening.”

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Springfield College
Springfield, MA
(413) 748.5287