Preseason Tournaments are Key for Fan Engagement in College Basketball
Written By: Tom Valdiserri
In the world of college basketball, preseason tournaments such as the KemperLesnik produced Maui Jim Maui Invitational, CBS Sports Classic, the Champions Classic, and Battle 4 Atlantis among others play a large role in setting the stage for fan engagement throughout the season. We spoke with Tom Valdiserri, Executive Vice President of Sports & Events at KemperLesnik on the topic.
Q: What role do you think preseason tournaments like the Maui Jim Maui Invitational play in fan engagement throughout the season?
A: Preseason tournaments bring great excitement and anticipation to the coming season as these tournaments feature top-ranked matchups. These tournaments set the stage for rankings/ratings battles that continue throughout the season.
Even more importantly, the tournaments offer mid-major program access and opportunity for teams to improve their overall NET ratings, by playing “up” in competition- competition that would not otherwise be available to them. NET rankings are the NCAA’s new measurement for determining the NCAA Tournament’s selection process. Additionally, they enhance the student athlete’s overall experience, by allowing them to travel to places like Maui, learn its culture and bond with their teammates early in the season. Finally, events like the Maui Jim Maui Invitational shine a spotlight on college basketball right at the start of the season with matchups between ranked teams. With NFL, college football, the NBA and NHL all in action, the college basketball spotlight would be dark until the meat of the conference schedules in mid-January.
Q: Which do you think plays a bigger role, the exposure of preseason tournament play or the matchup itself (ie. Equal playing field/competitive team ranking)?
A: They are inextricably linked; The key matchups provide greater exposure for college basketball at the outset prior to conference play beginning. This allows for greater competition on a national stage. And, in the eyes of the Selection Committee, it adds to the strength of the schedule.
Q: How does technology play a role in preseason tournaments to keep them relevant?
A: Livestream and social media have become integral parts of pre-event promotion and in-game coverage creating opportunities to engage with the target audience year-round. For example, the Maui Jim Maui Invitational announces the matchups coming to Maui via social through a bracket release in the summer. The bracket is announced on the official tournament social channels, tournament sponsors, podcasts and typically through a number of ESPN analysts’ and talent’s social channels, creating buzz and interest in the team’s fanbases prior to the event.
Q: How do we integrate fan engagement in our promotion of preseason tournaments?
A: Fan engagement is key for the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. On-campus activations create ways for the tournament to engage with the schools’ fanbases. Beginning in January/February, the Maui Jim Maui Invitational celebrates each school’s involvement through Official Surfboard Presentations on campus and then again in the fall with Midnight Madness and at home football games. These events provide additional value and opportunities for our title sponsor, Maui Jim, to engage with the school fanbase.
For the tournament itself, we also offer our fans traveling over to Maui, opportunities for added value experiences while on the island. Events such as a school fan golf tournament, 5K run, access to Maui Jim sunglasses and personal fittings, as well as island cultural and adventure excursions, are all offered to create a memorable experience for fans.
Q: How has the Maui Jim Maui Invitational benefited from strong fan engagement and how is it taken into account due to the tournament’s remote location?
A: The Maui Jim Maui Invitational is in rarified air, in terms of best location, best schools, players and coaches. No other tournament can match those essentials to success and longevity. Add to that our long relationship with ESPN. All 12 games are televised annually, with 6 in Prime Time. We draw the largest household numbers annually vs. other tournaments at that time of year. But we never rest on our laurels. We continue to strive to elevate and reinvent the Tournament. We feel we are the closest thing to the NCAA Final Four and continue to use that as our measuring stick, in terms of fan, player, coach, sponsor and media experience.