Supply and demand is a gasoline that fuels business but it's also greases that wheels of summer basketball. Slowly but surely, sneaker company owned events have begun to rule the roost.
Once upon a time, Nike monopolized the sponsorship of high school basketball teams as well as the majority of summer basketball teams and tournaments. They also owned the first and only sneaker company based league, Nike Swoosh, which was geared towards mid-level talent but was a sign of things to come for high major talent.
While Nike still dominates the market share, companies like Under Amour, Adidas and Reebok have amped up their marketing and their dollar investments with hopes of eventually re-slicing the pie. The more high school players that wear their sneakers, so too increases the odds of that sneaker company signing the next LeBron James.
The Sneaker Monster let out the cage by Sonny Vaccaro with his Reebok sponsored ABCD All-American Camp (1984 to 2007) has now become a full blown sneaker war to control the supply of talent and footwear. High school basketball players are the willing and motivated soldiers on the front lines, hoping to rise up the ranks with summer tournaments and leagues acting as the defacto battlefields.
Sneaker company sponsored teams have to win tournaments in order to continue securing and increasing sponsorship dollars which forces those teams to obtain the most elite talent by any means necessary. The mantra of "It's not whether you win or lose but how you play game" has been relegated to Non-sneaker Company affiliated and lower budget teams.
For most local teams, while playing in out-of-state tournaments was important for recruitment, there were a few in-state tournaments that had national appeal and attracted top teams and players. In NYC, independently owned tournaments like The Rumble in the Bronx and the iS8 Spring Tip-Off Classic, both sponsored by Nike, were not only economical but essential for increasing a player's recruitability and they thrived. Top tier Sneaker Company sponsored New York teams as well as elite out-of-state teams participated in one or both for the exposure but as the paradigm has shifted. To survive, independent tournaments may have to re-think their marketing strategies.
In an effort to ultimately monopolize a player's entire summer, sneaker companies have moved away from sponsoring one or two weekend tournaments, which allowed for independent tournaments to have a piece of the pie. They've begun providing entire summer leagues in addition to All-Star events which all but consumed the summer Live Periods when division I coaches are able to attend games.
As sneaker companies became more and more territorial, teams under their sponsorship were strongly encouraged to not only play in events under the same sponsorship butto play exclusively in the summer leagues they created as well. Since they were funding the teams, why not send them to events that they developed became the logic.
A sneaker company's worst nightmare was for a team sponsored by a competitor to win the championship in their event. To solve that problem, Nike started for its teams, the Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) that comes to a crescendo with the Nike Peach Jam. Adidas followed suit with Adidas Uprising League that ends with the Super 64. Under Armour has also put together a series of 11 events for its teams. UA also took over the Elite 24, an event whose original selling point ironically was its sneaker non-affiliation.
An unfortunate downside is that the top teams and players sponsored by the various sneaker company will rarely play each other but because these events feature the top players in the nation overall, they inevitably attract the top college coaches as well. This dynamic of teams needing to pick a sneaker company to be relevant and economically viable lessens the appeal of good players participating in or staying with non-affiliated teams.
Only one independent tournament seems to have survived the wrath of the sneaker company summer take-over and continues to grow. The Las Vegas Fab 48 had over 720 teams this summer according to its tournament director Gary Charles. The event continues to somehow attract top teams regardless of sneaker affiliation as well as a bevy of non-affiliated teams.
"The tournament is in Vegas to begin with," said Charles when asked about why and how the Fab 48 has continued to prosper while others whither on the vine. "Everyone wants to be in Vegas," he said alluding to the City's entertainment and vacation value.
Charles also attributes the tournament's success to having a good product as well as long established relationships. But truth be told, the Fab 48 also benefited from being right down the block from the Adidas Super 64 which was also in Vegas making it easy for college coaches to go back and forth between events. Non-Adidas and/or non-sneaker affiliated teams in the Fab 48 could also benefit from the coaches who came to see players in the Super 64. Apparently, the old business mantra of 'Location, location, location' works well for the Fab 48 which has become one the preeminent summer tournaments, independent or otherwise.
With the rise in power of the few sneaker company fueled leagues and events and the declining leverage of independent tournament's ability attract major talent, no longer is it as necessary for college coaches and recruiters to travel across the country to multiple events. They can spend their time and money at the few sneaker company run events and see the majority of the high major talent.
Sneaker company sponsored teams with elite talent no longer have the same incentive to participate in independent events which in turn de-incentivizes top college coaches from participating. As a result, the talent pool of both players and college coaches at these event has become a mid-level talent pool and many of the local tournaments have had to morph into division II to mid-major division I events.
Last season, regional events like Live in AC and the Buzzer Beater Classic were the required last stops for many top sneaker company sponsored New York teams as the Live Period came to an end. This season, while both events were successful from an attendance perspective, many of the elite teams and players passed on them due to playing an exhausting summer calendar of national sneaker company based events.
Does this mean that the independent tournaments will shrivel up and die? Of course not. There's a strong niche and large pool of division II to mid-major division I colleges who are always looking for talent. Some high D-I coaches will also attend independent events to find that diamond in the rough or that overlooked or under the radar player.
In an ever changing market, businesses have to adapt to survive. Some independent tournaments have embraced their new niche market and have become even more profitable. Others, who may be right or may be wrong, are sticking to their guns and see this shift as temporary. They have chosen to ride out the storm.
A few tournaments however, seem unaware that there is a storm even with 150 mile an hour winds and torrential rain all around. Unfortunately, they won't realize what hit them until their house has completely brown away.