Behind the Scenes:
Putting on the Rocket City Classic

single-meta-cal November 30, 2016

Basketball, for all its superstar players, remains a quintessential team sport.

So, too, is the task of orchestrating a basketball game a team sport, especially with a goal of turning a special event into an annual holiday tradition.

The Rocket City Classic will match Alabama and Arkansas State at the Von Braun Center on Wednesday, Dec. 21, with the SEC Network televising the game (Doug Bell and ex-Missouri great Jon Sundvold at the microphone) and bringing national exposure to Huntsville.

The event promoter, the Birmingham-based Knight Eady, has found no shortage of excellent teammates in Huntsville to achieve success with the Classic.

“We’re very, very appreciative of their willingness to support the event,” said Knight Eady COO Mark Whitworth of the sponsorship and organization effort that’s being mustered. “It’s a real positive reflection on the event and on the city of Huntsville, and we’re really excited about it.”

First, there is the presenting sponsor, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s their iconic “We’ve Got Space” Huntsville brand that will welcome residents and visitors to the game via signage, game goodies and more.

“They’ve really embraced the concept and share our excitement in trying to make this an annual basketball event,” Whitworth said.

Second, there are a number of other sponsors and partners on-board for what is less a basketball game and more a three-day extravaganza. The Crimson Tide’s Men’s Basketball Coach Avery Johnson wanted to take advantage of the holiday time, when classes are out of session, to bring his team to Huntsville early, to engage with the community and to learn some of the city’s history.

Dynetics is hosting the Alabama basketball team on a tour of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center along with kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Downtown Huntsville, Inc. is spreading the word through its social media network and WHNT News 19 has a promotional partnership, hoping to help Knight Eady reach its goal of selling out the VBC.

Providing the foundation for it all has been the Huntsville Sports Commission, which has worked with Whitworth and the Knight Eady group from the outset.

“Ralph (Stone, Sports Commission executive director) and his team have been great,” Whitworth said. “We couldn’t have done it without them. They’ve run the lead on the logistics side with the VBC. It’s been a real collaborative effort, starting in the Mayor’s office with (city administrator) John Hamilton and now with the CVB stepping up, it’s really come together nicely.”

“We’ve had a lot of good community support and with Knight Eady being Birmingham based, they’ve said many times that the cooperation and the team effort in getting the city and the Sports Commission and the community together represents Huntsville well in terms of what type city we are,” Stone said. “For the Sports Commission, that’s one reason we’re successful in all the events we put on. We do have that good community support and volunteers and participation.”

Since the Sports Commission began in 1990, it has provided almost $115 million in economic impact to the city through events it has acquired, hosted and administered.

Stone encouraged fans to buy tickets in advance of the event. By the end of November, some 3,000 tickets had been already sold and Coach Johnson is speaking on Dec. 6 to the Huntsville Quarterback Club to help promote the event.

Tickets are on sale at the VBC box office and through Ticketmaster. According to promoters, 80 percent of the tickets are $20 or less, geared to making this a family activity.

“We really do want to make this an annual event,” Whitworth said, acknowledging it could rotate between Alabama and Auburn as the host team. “A number of people want to see major college basketball there in the city in that time frame, and we think this is a great way to introduce that concept and build momentum for the future.”