Promoter says more investment needed to grow Whanganui as a major sports venue

A founder of New Zealand’s largest Pro-Am basketball tournament says continued investment, improved sports facilities and more accommodation will bring major sporting events to Whanganui.

HoopNation founders Paul Berridge and KJ Allen launched their Junior Showcase in the city last year as an offshoot of the massive senior HoopNation Classic tournament that Whanganui lost to Tauranga in 2016.

The 2022 Junior Showcase kicked off yesterday (Wednesday), supported by $30,000 in event funding from Whanganui District Council-controlled economic development agency Whanganui & Partners.

The four-day event is the largest youth basketball tournament Whanganui has ever seen, featuring more than 730 players along with their coaches and supporters.

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HoopNation returns to Whanganui with the finals this weekend (file photo).

GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF/Stuff

HoopNation returns to Whanganui with the finals this weekend (file photo).

Competing at four venues across the city, this year’s 72 teams have booked accommodation in Whanganui and are staying as far away as Palmerston North, Feilding and Pātea.

Berridge, who now resides in Tauranga, said he was keen on making Whanganui the permanent home of the Junior Showcase but that would depend on facilities and resources – the reason HoopNation left Whanganui seven years ago.

He said it had always been planned to start this type of tournament for young players, run under the rules of the United States’ Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), but a three-year sponsorship deal with Whanganui & Partners made it possible for the founders , the new youth start tournament in their hometown.

“Coming home with the Junior Showcase was a special part of the journey. But it will always come down to resources,” Berridge said.

“It’s not just about supporting the growth of football across the country – it’s about creating something that is within reach of local children and inspires them to take a journey with basketball or other opportunities and ways.” We are very pleased to be able to bring economic benefits to the city as well.”

HoopNation started 12 years ago with 15 teams at Springvale Stadium in Whanganui, but within five years the rapidly growing tournament was looking for bigger facilities and more financial support from the council.

It moved to Tauranga in 2016 with $40,000 in major events funded by Tauranga City Council.

The HoopNation Classic now hosts a few thousand athletes in more than 200 teams playing 15 courses in Tauranga for four days.

Berridge said a new agreement with Tauranga City Council means the Classic will remain in the Bay of Plenty for the time being.

But his return to Whanganui in the future was not out of the question.

With continued investment in events, upgraded facilities and more accommodation, Whanganui would be well positioned to compete with Tauranga, Palmerston North and other major events hubs, Berridge said.

“Whanganui is central and people love coming here. In the 90s, this was a huge sports center that attracted many different codes to come here and host tournaments.

“If there were a facility that would be capable of hosting a tournament of this size, we would certainly consider it. There is an opportunity to update Springvale Park to support not only basketball but other codes as well.

“Obviously it would take resources to fight for those opportunities, but I believe we have the resources here, we have the land space: it will depend on what support is in place.”

Junior Showcase is midway into a three-year deal with Whanganui & Partners.

Jonathan Sykes, strategic marketing director at Whanganui & Partners, said the economic development agency was delighted to bring HoopNation back to Whanganui and plans are already in place for the 2023 tournament.

“There is a tremendously positive return on investment for the local economy. Based on our calculations, we believe the Junior Showcase has the potential to contribute approximately $1 million to the local economy per event.

“In particular, the boost for our hospitality industry and our accommodation facilities comes at the right time. Events that encourage visitors to Whanganui to stay for several days provide a significant financial boost.”

With agency support, the NZ Amateur Boxing Championships also made a welcome comeback in Whanganui in mid-April and the town will host the 2022 Championships later this year.

Sykes said hosting two amateur boxing championships after decades of missing the event was fantastic.

“The impact of the pandemic on events like this has been tremendously challenging, so it’s particularly gratifying to see these events taking place this year.

“Our hospitality, retail and visitor industries have been under exceptional pressure, making the contribution of events like Boxing Champs and HoopNation even more important.

“When Whanganui hosts events, we see their impact in our visitor spend and we hear how their value is being reflected by the community and attendees.”

Sykes said the success of events like Boxing Champs and HoopNation reinforces Whanganui’s reputation and shows what a great venue it is for events.

“We know Whanganui is ready and able to be a national venue and destination, so we are focused on designing our events offering to match that potential.”

Accommodation is the biggest challenge, he said.

“This was one of the difficulties considered when Whanganui & Partners commissioned a hotel feasibility study last year. A new hotel is being developed but it will take some time to complete the project.”

Whanganui & Partners opened applications for another round of event funding on Thursday.

Sykes said the agency’s focus on event support is integral to its role and essential to enabling events to be held in Whanganui.

“To be supported by Whanganui & Partners, the events must bring direct economic benefit to our local economy and business community, promote Whanganui and help build its profile nationally, and draw a significant number of visitors to Whanganui to generate revenue for tourism-related businesses and businesses potentially attract new residents and businesses.”

The 2022 HoopNation Junior Showcase will be held across six plazas at Springvale Stadium, Whanganui Collegiate, Cullinane College and Whanganui High School and will be held on Saturday.

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