Last night’s TV ratings-friendly Armed Forces Classic matchup between Rick Pitino’s No. 8 ranked Louisville and Richard Pitino’s Minnesota Gophers signaled not only the start of college basketball season, but an annual business that has been booming since the mid-00’s.
The third annual Armed Forces event — managed by ESPN Events, broadcast in prime time on ESPN and with seven corporate partners attached — is the first of dozens of lucrative events and multi-team tournaments held during the early stages of college basketball season.
This is a trend that has taken off in the aftermath of an NCAA ruling in 2006. Prior to that year’s college basketball season, the NCAA removed a restriction on the amount of regular-season games teams could play if games were played in tournaments, incentivizing athletics departments to schedule their teams in early season events. Programs have since taken advantage of tournaments for the ability to play four games beyond the NCAA’s 27-game regular season limit. The ruling also impacted the frequency with which teams could participant in these events, as college basketball blog Big Apple Buckets describes:
There has been a surge in multi-team events (or MTEs), thanks to a change in NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124.1 that began prior to that season. The rule change stated teams could participate in a tournament in every season, instead of two events in every four, but they also loosened the restrictions on event certification.
Lightened NCAA restrictions meant more willing participants, which has opened the door for entrepreneurs in the sports business to kick start — or in many cases expand — their events portfolio to include preseason basketball tournaments. And the more marquee basketball programs these companies can match up, the more eager the corporations and broadcasters are to partner in the event.
Many of the marquee early season tournaments are operated by a handful of firms in the sports business. ESPN Events, which runs five multi-team events including the Charleston Classic, Puerto Rico Tip-Off and Wooden Legacy, among others, is one of the major players.
Gazelle Group runs the postseason CBI tournament and manages the 2K Sports Classic, Legends Classic, and Gotham Classic. BD Global manages the MGM Grand Showcase, MGM Grand Main Event, Gulf Coast Showcase and the Roundball Showcase. The Hoosier Showcase and the Cawood Ledford Classic are held exclusively on campus sites.
EA Sports, Progressive, DirecTV and Continental Tire are among the myriad corporate partners attached to this year’s events. The list of early season tournaments goes on and the list of corporate stakeholders in this business is even longer.