One of the legacies left behind by the late NCAA President Myles Brand is a 10-person startup company tucked in a high-rise
office building in downtown Indianapolis that is just starting to make its mark on the basketball world.
Though the for-profit
iHoops wasn’t officially launched until Oct. 26, six weeks after Brand’s death from pancreatic cancer, the education
initiative—the first business partnership between the NCAA and National Basketball Association—is essentially
At the core of iHoops’ mission is weaving basketball more deeply into American
culture. Through online education and hands-on instruction, iHoops aims to increase youth basketball participation at all
levels and convert those participants into either college or pro players or lifelong fans of the game. Its Web site, iHoops.com,
targets a broad audience—including players and their parents and coaches—and covers such topics as how to run
a practice and the importance of a college education.
Sources close to the initiative point to rapid declines
in youth basketball participation over the last few years and decreased funding for school-run and other publicly funded teams
and leagues as reasons for the NCAA’s and NBA’s intervention.
the only way to address the pressing needs facing the sport, NCAA officials said, was to pull all the sports’ constituents
“It’s a global take on the future of the sport,” said Greg Shaheen, NCAA senior vice
president of basketball and business strategies. “At its heart, like so many of Myles’ initiatives, it’s
iHoops took shape in 2005 after a meeting of Brand and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Brand and Stern enlisted USA Basketball, the NBA Players Association and NCAA member institutions to join the effort, which
is the first time the premier college and professional basketball leagues have sought to intervene in the fortunes of youth
The NCAA and NBA, said sources close to iHoops, pledged $5 million each in cash and marketing resources
for the first year alone. iHoops will have a major presence on NBA and NCAA Web sites and during national radio and television
broadcasts of college and pro games.
Shaheen said iHoops will be highly visible during this season’s men’s
and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, and NBA officials added that their investment could exceed the initial commitment.
Already, ads promoting iHoops.com are playing prominently during NBA telecasts on cable channel TNT. Billboards
are being erected in key markets and ad time during network broadcasts has been secured. There also will be significant in-arena
signage for iHoops at NBA and NCAA games this season.
“This is about Myles Brand and David Stern’s
vision to bring everyone together to create a better environment for the kids, and a better way for them to learn about the
game of basketball and the role it can play in their overall growth as a person,” said Kathy Behrens, NBA’s executive
vice president of social responsibility and player programs.
There are also solid business reasons for the NBA
and NCAA to be involved in such an initiative.
Development of elite players and U.S. teams is a big thrust of
iHoops. Stern has made no secret of his desire to expand the brand globally, and an improved Team USA in the Olympics and
other international competitions helps him do that.
And youth basketball initiatives co-branded by the sport’s
most powerful collegiate and professional bodies has an undeniable monetary component. It would open a bevy of opportunities
for sponsorships and other corporate involvement, sports marketers said.
Deals with Nike, Adidas, Spalding and
Right Guard were signed earlier this year, and iHoops officials think more sponsors could be secured in the coming months.
The staff housed in Capital Center at 251 N. Illinois St. is expected to grow as the initiative takes off.
and NBA officials each own half of iHoops. They brought in former Big Ten deputy commissioner and Big 12 commissioner Kevin
Weiberg to run the operation. Weiberg was serving as vice president of the Big Ten Network when he was approached by Brand
about becoming iHoops’ CEO.
iHoops board members include Duke University basketball coach Mike Kryzyzewski,
former Indiana Pacer and current NBA TV analyst Len Elmore and NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.
University and Bowling Green basketball coach Dan Dakich, who has a teen-age son and daughter playing youth basketball, thinks
the initiative is overdue.
“As a college coach, I saw it all the time, that players and parents struggle
to find the right information,” Dakich said. “This brings a much-needed structure to youth basketball. And it
gets instant credibility because it is being done in conjunction with the NCAA and NBA.”
In late October,
iHoops.com was launched to serve as an information clearinghouse for pre-collegiate players of all levels, parents, coaches
The site features articles and videos on topics such as how to structure practices, proper nutrition
and health care for players, and information on NCAA eligibility as well as blogs, message boards and other interactive features.
There are sections on life lessons as well: for instance, the do’s and don’ts of using a credit
card and how to avoid debt. Expansion of the site is expected to include certification programs for coaches and officials.
iHoops’ initiatives, however, will go beyond cyberspace, with a host of youth basketball clinics, camps and
iHoops officials on Nov. 23 were to announce the first such program, a skills challenge they
expect will draw 700 players ages 9 through 14. Competitions will start at the grass-roots level through YMCAs, Boys &
Girls Clubs and other select organizations, with competitors advancing to regional competitions in NBA cities. A championship
round will be held in Orlando next May.
Weiberg outlined four major iHoops objectives: Achieve structural improvements
in youth basketball, including educational opportunities for coaches and better central organization of club and travel youth
basketball; enhance the basketball experience for players and parents; achieve a more unified set of stakeholders by working
with organizations like the Amateur Athletic Union and USA Basketball; and increase participation levels in youth basketball.
Weiberg said the game plan calls for pouring all iHoops’ profits—if there are any—into creating
and fortifying the company’s programs.
Forming iHoops-branded leagues, teams or tournaments is not in the
game plan—for now. There is fear by some youth basketball organizers and club team operators that NBA and NCAA officials
are muscling in on their territory.
“We want to work with all those involved in youth basketball to make
it better,” Weiberg said.
Improving participation levels could be one of iHoops’ most important missions
from a sales and marketing standpoint for the NCAA and NBA, said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs
at the University of Indianapolis.
Youth participation in basketball for all levels nationwide has declined
more than 10 percent since 2005, according to Maryland-based Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
stakeholders in the game of basketball are in a position where they’re saying, ‘Where is the next generation of
fans going to come from?’” DeGaris said. “There’s a strong relationship between participation in a
sport and becoming a fan. All the research proves that, and the NBA and NCAA are acutely aware of the situation.”•