Slam Dunk to the Beach, the once wildly successful regional high school basketball tournament that disappeared under the black eye of its founder, returned in December to generate a whopping $1 million toward the local economy, according to officials.
In a marketing coup, the Delaware Sports Commission (DSC) resurrected the event to the approval of a supportive Sussex County contingent, hoping to leverage the popularity of the original tournament and create a springboard for sports events in the area.
During its heyday, the high school tournament attracted names like LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. But when director Robert F. “Bobby” Jacobs, who oversaw the tournament for 13 years, was caught misappropriating thousands of tournament dollars, the event disappeared — until last December.
“It’s a fascinating thing, the branding piece,” said DSC Chairman Dr. Matt Robinson. “There certainly was some negativity attached to it at one time.”
It was the first official event run from the ground up by the DSC, which formed in 2008 to attract large and small sporting events to Delaware that would benefit the sports industry and generate funds through tourism.
Robinson said the time seemed right several years ago to resurrect Slam Dunk to the Beach and see if the event could recapture the crowds it once drew. The organization legally obtained the licensing and logo, ready to turn the negatives from the past into positives, according to Robinson.
“People were talking about the tournament in July,” Robinson said. “It was always Sussex County’s event, so it was neat to bring it back to them. It’s $1 million for a first-year event so we’re pleased.”
The tournament, held at Cape Henlopen High School, was funded through a General Aid grand and funds from Sussex County. Already, the DSC has tentatively scheduled Slam Dunk 2015 for Dec. 27 -29 at Cape Henlopen High School. Robinson said they’re hoping to develop packages with local businesses now they’ve seen the results and future tourism potential.
This year’s local sponsors included Grotto Pizza and Pepsi.
The tournament was a boon to the local economy, thanks to a cadre of eager volunteers and national coverage of the event. One game feature on ESPN3and the Watch ESPN app reached 95 million households, according to officials. Seventeen other games were aired on other stations and more than 75 journalists representing television, web and radio stations attended the event.
“Because of the buzz it creates, Slam Dunk is the kind of thing that raises Delaware’s profile as a destination for all travelers,” said Linda Parkowski, director of the Delaware Tourism Office. “When people come to Delaware for Slam Dunk, they are able to see the state more definitively as a place that has great attractions, such as tax-free shopping and wonderful beaches. That mindset stays with them long after the tournament is done.”
Robinson said the DSC succeeded in meeting the interests of their constituents in Sussex County and set the stage for future events.
“We’re bringing visitors to an area otherwise they would not be there for,” Robinson said. “That would have been a dead week leading up to New Year’s.”
The tournament included 16 of the nation’s top boy’s high school basketball programs from seven states, including New York and Ohio and the District of Columbia. Five schools were from Delaware. More than 10,000 visitors attended the tournament, according to organizers.
Great advertising for the state, Robinson said attendees talked about the ease of accessing the tournament from neighboring states. And the support from Sussex County exceeded his expectations.
The DSC will continue to bid on other events, hoping to attract youth sporting events to Delaware and increase tourism for the multiple day events.
The University of Delaware Center for Applied Business and Economic Research conducted the economic impact study.
“We know that we won’t attract a final four to Delaware,” said Robinson. “But a lot of small events can measure up to one big event.” ♦