Sports Business students pivot quickly for Hoophall
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
The games appeared to be over before they ever could be played. But when high school winter sports got a new lease on life last month, the Sports Business Club at Grand Canyon University was ready for action.
It all changed in a span of four days. The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) voted on Jan. 8 to cancel winter sports, then reversed its decision on Jan. 12 – both by a 5-4 vote.
That meant that the Air Force Reserve Hoophall West basketball showcase, annually staffed by members of the GCU Sports Business Club as a way to learn how to manage an event, suddenly was a go, but they had only two weeks to prepare for the first game Jan. 26.
So it turned into another lesson: how to scramble when the situation changes. Partnering with Position Sports, they solidified their plan to provide the setup and materials for the livestreams on Twitch.tv/hoophallclassic – a necessity because AIA restrictions severely limited attendance.
“Thankfully, with us at Position Sports and the incredible students at GCU, we made that happen,” said Alex Carlson, a GCU sports business graduate who now is Creative Coordinator at the Gilbert-based sports marketing firm, which specializes in event operations. “It was quick learning for all of us. But the students enjoy this.”
Final game scheduled for Monday
In non-pandemic years, Hoophall has been a five-day event at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale that attracted top teams from all over the country. This year’s format instead pits the boys and girls teams from rival schools in the Phoenix area against each other on eight days at eight locations – the last one will be Desert Vista vs. Mountain Pointe on Monday, previously postponed because of COVID-19 issues.
“GCU is a main partner of this program,” Carlson said. “In a typical year, the Sports Business Club students do the marketing for the event, event operations, media PR, you name it. They run the whole thing.
“But with all the restrictions here, we’re just doing the event operations – they’re learning sign placement on the live screen, what’s important, helping the run of show with game scripts, doing game stats, and then working with me and streaming partners Synergy, GCU, Air Force Reserve and Legacy Foundation to make sure we put on a great product to watch.”
Junior Luke Unverferth, Vice President of the Sports Business Club, said getting to work with Carlson has been instructive and inspiring for students who want to follow in his footsteps.
“We’ve seen just how hectic working in sports is. He shows us a great example by keeping his composure and also relies a lot on volunteers,” Unverferth said. “We’ve learned a lot about what event operations entails and what you have to do to make it as well as all the necessities and everything that’s going to be going on in a game like this.”
Ryan Batawala, Director of Sponsorships for the club, remembered how Carlson took the students aside last year at Hoophall and told them that it is an important first step for GCU sports business students.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to continue to learn in these hard times,” Batawala said. “These people we’re working with have gone through the same exact stuff that we have at GCU, and they know we may be struggling with COVID right now. Giving us opportunities in these tough times is definitely something we appreciate.”
Everyone got a chance
The students also have had to adapt club meetings to the pandemic by bringing in speakers via Zoom. To allow as many students as possible to take advantage of this rare chance to volunteer in person, they had a different group work on each day – Unverferth and Batawala didn’t get their first try at it until the sixth of the eight doubleheaders.
“Even though there are limited spots, we were able to gather a lot of volunteers from the club and provide a hands-on experience,” Unverferth said. “There are a lot of eager students that hopped in.”
Dr. Mark Clifford, Assistant Dean and Director of Sports Business for the Colangelo College of Business, was equally appreciative.
“Providing opportunities to learn and work Hoophall for approximately 40 students is a testament to Position Sports’ relentless dedication to our Sport Business students here at GCU,” he said. “This event could have flown under the radar because of COVID-19 and multiple restrictions. However, they’ve found a way to integrate students into the process to allow them to learn multiple aspects of a sporting event.
“These games were limited in terms of fans and exposure, but students still gained hands-on experience, working side by side with Position Sports. I’m thankful for our tremendous partnership with Kevin Foley and Position Sports and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for keeping our students in the front of their minds and giving them this invaluable experience.”
In addition to event operations, Position Sports works with media and does marketing, social media and graphic design. Its clients include Team USA, Nike, Jordan Brand, Red Bull, The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Arizona Basketball Coaches Association, and Foley, its CEO, teaches at GCU.
“We’re just a jack-of-all-trades of an agency. We work with the best of the best,” Carlson said. “The cool thing with Position Sports is that we’ve given so many opportunities to GCU. We want the same opportunities for these students, wherever the path may lead them.”
Said Clifford, “COVID has no doubt had a negative impact on the sports industry, which in turn, has limited the opportunity for our students to begin their career in sports. But with partners like these, our students will be prepared with the needed experience and exposure once the sports industry bounces back.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
GCU Today: Sports Business students get in the game(s)
Hoophall West: Game schedule