The City of Palms Classic high school basketball tournament is about more than jump shots, rebounds and dribbling. Think dollar signs. Many dollar signs.
The Fort Myers event generates an economic impact that ripples through local hotels, restaurants and shops.
Although no economic impact study has been done on the City of Palms Classic, Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority, estimates the impact could be "several hundred thousand dollars."
The granddaddy of local high school basketball tournaments began in 1973. The event, which is played at Bishop Verot High School and runs Dec. 18-22, annually attracts some of the best prep teams in the nation.
A Naples group was hoping to replicate that success with the Gulfshore Invitational, a tournament that used to be known as the Gulfshore Shootout. The 21-team tournament, which was scheduled for Dec. 27-31 at the Community School of Naples, was canceled last week. Tournament officials cited a lack of financial backing.
Now, Naples will miss out on a potential economic boomlet similar to that generated by the City of Palms Classic. How much of a boomlet could it have injected into the Naples economy?
"I don't know," said Mike Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.
Like counterparts in Lee County, no studies have apparently been done in Collier County regarding high-profile prep basketball tournaments.
Clark Hill, general manager of the Hilton Naples, said in an email that the canceled tournament had no connection to the Sports Council of Collier County, which tries to bring sports events to the community.
Meanwhile, the City of Palms Classic, is moving forward once more.
The tournament helps fill hotels during a time of year, hoteliers said, when there is a lull in tourism.
"We see a normal slowdown between Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Jim Larkin, general manager of the Crowne Plaza in Fort Myers.
Then, the City of Palms Classic hits town. Nancy McPhee, program manager for the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, said the number of hotel room nights for the tournament peaked at 1,600 two years ago. In 2011, she said, the tournament generated about 1,400 room nights.
Three teams in the 2012 tournament are staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, according to its general manager, David McConnell. The timing is good because Christmas affects other parts of his clientele.
"Corporate travel slows down," McConnell said.
He said about 40 of the hotel's 126 rooms will be used each night by teams and family and friends of players. He estimates it will account for about 250 room nights during the tournament. And then there will be a boost to the Hilton Garden Inn's restaurant business
"This is a big shot in the arm," McConnell said of the City of Palms Classic.
McPhee said each team will stay five or six nights and each team usually brings along family and friends.
One of the intangible benefits the City of Palms Classic has received for years is national media exposure for Fort Myers. ESPN, ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and other national outlets and publications have covered games and covered the tournament as a national prep sports phenomenon and in the process helped publicize the area.
"The fact we get exposure on ESPN is huge," McPhee said.
ESPN proclaims itself The Worldwide Leader in Sports and for a few days in December the leader pops into Fort Myers for the City of Palms Classic and posts stories on www.espn.com about the tournament. Those stories carry a Fort Myers dateline.
Some money goes in the other direction to help create buzz for the tournament. McPhee said the county will spend $18,000 this year advertising the tournament in publications and on websites outside the area to help lure visitors. She said the county has been helping out in this way since 1992.
The tournament also pays for the team's airline tickets and hotels. About $100,000 of the event's $175,000 budget goes to fly teams to Fort Myers and help house them in hotels.
"Teams pay a very discounted rate," Larkin said.
He said teams pay about 60 percent of a normal rate.
Still, even the discounted rates during an off-time help fill hotel rooms with some tall young people and their families.