By Chris Gionta
Blake Arena has a familiar look to those who know it well — the classic wooden bleachers gleaming against maroon curtains and signage, with a massive “S” for Springfield College splashed in the center of the hardwood, is an expected sight.
But during the annual Hoophall Classic event, and specifically in this 2022 Spalding Hoophall Classic presented by Eastbay, the Arena takes on a new persona. Gone are the giant “S” and all-white walls, and in their places are insignia from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and most visibly, their sponsors.
Logos of Spalding, Eastbay, Springfield College, and the Basketball Hall of Fame, the hosts, are displayed against a new black background. Along railings, the Springfield College and Basketball Hall of Fame logos repeat for emphasis.
Hanging from the rafters are logos of ShotTracker, Big Y Supermarket, MGM Springfield, Gatorade, and Nike. The normally-plain railings behind each of the nets feature an ESPN logo, highlighting the prominence of some games and teams to be covered by the leader in sports media. On ESPN, viewers are shown courtside signage that rotates ads for many of these brands.
“We have had Eastbay, Spalding, the Big Y, the Hall of Fame have all been title sponsors for a few years now,” said Grady Short, the event supervisor at the Spalding Hoophall Classic.
“They love to come to events like this. Eastbay and Gatorade, too — it’s a real big time for them to get some exposure on ESPN, and with the up and coming athletes.”
On Friday, with ESPN broadcasting one of the games, more sponsors came into play, such as the United States Marine Corps, Geico, and Chevrolet. Logos of those companies were featured at one end of James Naismith Court.
When the worldwide leader comes into play, there must be a balance created between the network’s and the event’s sponsors.
“We do work closely with both Paragon and ESPN,” said Michael Pietrzack, the Director of Partnerships at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Because we do kind of have to coexist in that space with ESPN. So, ESPN has some of their sponsors that come into our event, but we have our contracted sponsors that come in. We have to work with them pre-event to agree on that courtside signage rundown and what that schedule looks like, so we can kind of incorporate both of our partnerships, and everyone kind of gets the value that they need.”
Most of the sponsors are carried over from other events done by the Basketball Hall of Fame, and have been sponsorships that have worked with the Hall of Fame for a long time.
“Along with the Hoophall Classic, we do a bunch of events across the country every year,” said Pietrzack. “And usually what happens is, a lot of the sponsors that we have — they kind of get involved in our entire portfolio, and Hoophall Classic is our entire portfolio.”
As the attention to the event increases, so does the level of the sponsors. On Friday, one of the ends of the court featured only the logos of Sports Center Next. After the final game on Friday, some of them were replaced with logos of larger companies, such as Chipotle.
The Spalding Hoophall Classic knows how to keep the sponsors relevant to the audience as well.
“Up top on the scoreboards, there’s a rotating ad sign that has all the sponsors that’ll just filter out throughout the day,” said Short.
“And that’s just a chance for the audience to catch it in their eye and see that there’s a relationship between that brand and Hoophall, and that’s just something that’s really important to that brand.”
Not all sponsors are created equal, nor do they provide equal importance to the event. Therefore, some must be prioritized more for the viewers.
“One of the bigger values is that digital courtside signage because that’s viewable on television,” said Pietrzack.
“And what we do is behind the scenes, pre-event, we will work with all of our sponsors to create that graphic and what that looks like. Then, basically, what I do is create a schedule of when those graphics are going to run throughout each game. Depending on the sponsorship level, that determines how many minutes you get per game.”
There are many ways to get lost in the spectacle of the Spalding Hoophall Classic. It could be exceptional athleticism and skill of celebrity-status players like Mikey Williams, or the dominance of seven-footers like Donovan Clingan and Dereck Lively — but it could also be as simple as the Chevrolet logo they slide up against after taking a foul. No matter how it all adds to the notion that this is no ordinary Blake Arena experience.
Photo: Chris Gionta