WICHITA, Kansas --
Air Force Reserve recruiting picked an ideal location to be the presenting partner for The Basketball Tournament, known as TBT, as record crowds turned out for the Wichita State University regional in late July.
TBT, which is in its sixth year, is a 64-team, single-elimination tournament played across eight different regionals. It features a winner-take-all $2 million prize for the last team standing. The Marquette University alumni team, the Golden Eagles, won the Wichita State regional and will move on in pursuit of the ultimate prize.
As a presenting partner, Air Force Reserve received premier branding at the Wichita regional as all eight teams wore Reserve patches on their uniforms. The Reserve will also have an on-site and in-broadcast presence at every TBT venue.
“The Wichita regional was a huge win for Air Force recruiting,” said Senior Master Sgt. Randy Rodriguez, superintendent of the Air Force Recruiting Service Total Force Recruiting Cell, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. “Having a regional so close to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, made this regional a great opportunity for our local recruiting teams. Having three teams from the state of Kansas allowed us to get our messaging out about the great benefits we offer.
“Additionally, TBT’s national platform on ESPN gave us a broad reaching message to basketball fans around the world and allowed us to further share the great story of the Air Force Reserve and how we can partner with students to help with college tuition assistance and student loan payback.”
Prior to this summer’s TBT, no single game had drawn more than 2,500 fans. The Wichita regional shattered that record the first night with 7,184 fans in attendance. More than 20,000 total fans attended the four-day event.
“I love the atmosphere here so much,” said John Mugar, TBT founder and chief executive officer. “There’s no sky boxes here. There’s not over-commercialization like you see in typical arenas. I absolutely love the atmosphere.”
Mugar talked about the advantage of having a presenting sponsor with a local tie to the area. Having a flying unit just minutes away at McConnell AFB made this an ideal location for the Air Force Reserve.
“It’s perfect,” Mugar said. “Flying in here I saw the Air Force base. The model of having a presenter in a region like this where we are going to have record attendance two- or three-fold is tremendous for us and something we want to emulate in the future. We are a national and worldwide event, but we really want to appeal to regional and local fans as well.”
With the arena near capacity for the opening night and great crowds in attendance each day, the Air Force Reserve was on full display throughout the tournament. Digital advertising rotated throughout the arena while the Air Force Reserve logo was on the court and on display along the baselines. The games were all televised on ESPN, giving the Reserve a national platform.
ESPN game analyst Fran Fraschilla led the broadcast on ESPN for the Wichita TBT.
“This tournament has a lot of excitement and unpredictability because you never know what’s going to happen,” Fraschilla said. “These are all young people that are competing at a high level, a lot like your guys in the Air Force who compete for a different prize – keeping us safe here and around the world.”
For the recruiters from McConnell AFB, getting this amount of exposure and branding for the Air Force Reserve in the local area was greatly appreciated.
“It’s huge having this sponsorship here in Wichita to get the awareness out,” said Senior Master Sgt. Cole Chamberlain. “They had alumni teams from the University of Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State. It’s getting the word out in the local area about the Air Force Reserve’s presence here.
“AFRC marketing has been great this year. We’ve had great exposure for the Air Force Reserve and it has gotten people interested. People are seeing Air Force Reserve in zones they may have never seen before, especially with ESPN and the conference championships in basketball and things like that. We’ve really built that up quite a bit this year. We loved the advertising and the help from the headquarters level.”
Dan Fitzgerald, a former player at Marquette, is the general manager for Wichita regional winning Golden Eagles team. He said he has an appreciation for seeing the Air Force as the presenting sponsor.
“My little brother played basketball at the Air Force Academy and is now in his sixth year of service after college,” he said. “He’s had a great experience at the Academy and serving his country and he’s received some tremendous benefits being a military member. We are awful proud of him. It certainly adds a bit when you have a family member serving, so it’s kind of cool to see the Air Force Reserve as the sponsor here. Anytime we see the Air Force we think of him.”
As the presenting sponsor, the Air Force Reserve had the opportunity to present the winning team with its team placard. TBT features a huge bracket and the winning team after each game gets to place its placard in the winner’s place on the bracket. Col. Kevin Rainey, the 931st Operations Group commander at McConnell, was given the honor of handing the winning team its placard to post.
“The Air Force Reserve sponsors TBT to target recruiting in different areas of the country and this is a fantastic opportunity to get the Air Force Reserve name out there and try to get more folks to join the Reserve as part-time Reserve Citizen Airmen professionals,” Rainey said.
“It was an honor to present the championship plaque to the Marquette alumni team. It was outstanding basketball all weekend. Hopefully AFRC will sponsor this again because I will be out here again. The community of Wichita and the surrounding towns are amazing supporters of Team McConnell. We love this town and the community supports us, and we try to give them love back.”