Viewers tuning into FIBA World Cup games in August and September will notice consistent but distinct designs on the courts at the venues in Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Sevilla, Bilbao and Gran Canaria. One of two companies -- along with FIBA presenting partner Beko -- with a brand presence on those floors will be Connor Sports, the U.S.-based sports courts manufacturer of the playing surfaces for the tournament. This is the first time that FIBA has granted a court manufacturer such visibility at one of its flagship events. As the 24-team tournament’s Aug. 30 start date draws nearer, Connor Sports VP of Int’l Sales Andrew Gettig outlined the steps his company has taken in a process dating back to January ’13, when FIBA opened a competitive bidding process to determine its official technical supplier for the ’14-18 period. Gettig represented Connor at a meeting with FIBA execs in Switzerland the following April to lay out his company’s proposal. A month later, FIBA named Connor the winner of the bidding process. Following that announcement, Connor -- which was already FIBA’s technical supplier for its 3x3 World Championships, 3x3 Youth World Championships and 3x3 World Tour -- quickly got to work on what Gettig called its biggest int’l project to date -- which he said was worth “well north of” $500,000 in product and services.
: Before setting the process in motion, Connor created a series of step-by-step deadlines for itself. “We worked backward from the understanding that there’s no option of showing up late to this party,” Gettig said. “You can’t bring your courts the week after the tournament starts. It all had to be there.” Knowing the courts needed to be installed by Aug. 25 ahead of an Aug. 27 inspection and the start of practice the following day, Connor worked through a series of questions to establish a timetable. Everything from the amount of time it would take for the courts to get through customs in Spain to the travel time it would take the courts to be transported across the Atlantic to the time needed to paint the hardwood entered into the equation. Each of the World Cup playing surfaces consists of First Grade Northern Hard Maple. The manufacturing of the courts started with the milling, which took place at Connor’s mill in Amasa, Michigan. The six courts were then sanded, painted and finished in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The courts set sail on ships bound for Spain in July. While int’l freight is nothing new for Connor -- Gettig estimated that a third of the company’s business comes from outside the U.S. -- sending six different basketball courts worth more than $100,000 apiece from the U.S. to Spain required contingency plans. Gettig: “So we have our own worst-case scenario plans that we try not to dwell on, but it’s a necessary exercise. We go through it and our delivery partners, our truck drivers, they’ve all gone through the exercise. They know if something happens … it’s not like no one’s ever thought of it before. We’ve thought of it and we have a plan, we just don’t like to talk about it.” Throughout the process, Gettig said, Connor emphasized the urgency of each of its deadlines. “We leaned on some of our logistics providers, some of the shipping companies we regularly work with,” Gettig said. “We said, ‘This is an instance where we can’t miss the boat, we can’t show up a week late, we can’t have any problems.’”
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
: Connor approached contract negotiations well aware that FIBA had never before given a manufacturer brand visibility at any of its showcase events. But by emphasizing the scale of the project, Gettig said that Connor was able to convince FIBA to make an exception. Gettig: “We are bringing in the highest-level court that we make. We are bringing six of them with a special graphics package. And we are taking care of them for FIBA, so they don’t have to worry about the quality of the courts, or getting them freighted in on time, getting them installed and taken care of. … And in return, we asked for our name on the floor twice.” Gettig added, “The people at FIBA were very open-minded. We had a very good negotiation back and forth. They got some things that they valued above everything else. And they knew that to get what they valued more than anything else, they were going to have to give up some things of value to us.” Gettig believes viewers from every corner of the globe will tune in to the games, and he knows that when they do, Connor will receive invaluable exposure thanks to its logo’s presence in two locations along the sidelines. Gettig: “The court is beautiful and distinctive and our name’s on the court, and we think people will notice that.” He was quick to add, however, that Connor will remain assertive in spreading the word about its work. He said, "But beyond what people will stumble upon or what they’ll see just because they’re interested in basketball, we will be doing our own marketing and our own messaging."
: FIBA wanted the courts to reflect its rebranding of the event as the Basketball World Cup. Gettig said that Connor’s work helping the NCAA Basketball Tournament carry out a similar initiative showed that it could help FIBA rebrand its flagship event. “Over the last several years, the NCAA has launched a rebranding, with all the first rounds, all the regional matches, all being held on identical courts,” Gettig said. “They [FIBA] said, ‘That’s really kind of what we want to do because we are rebranding the Basketball World Championships as the Basketball World Cup, so we’re re-launching and we want to have an upgraded look.’ ... We understood what they wanted to do. They wanted to have continuity in branding, yet they wanted to have instantly recognizable, iconic courts. But they wanted each city to be slightly different, without compromising on the uniformity.” Connor and FIBA exchanged several mockups and suggestions before agreeing on the design for the courts. The logo of two hands joined together at center court represents the Spanish flamenco dance, and the name of each city is painted in a unique color above the sidelines.
TOP OF THE LINE
- 19.5m x 44m
- 22.4 metric tons
- 10,240 rubber pads of footing
- 528 steel securing pins
*Specs per court
: FIBA challenged Connor to make sure that underneath the artwork painted onto the courts, the playing surfaces would consist of wood of the highest quality. Gettig said that FIBA approached Connor and asked, “What’s the best basketball court you build?” FIBA was emphatic in asking Connor to produce its highest-quality floors, and if possible, improve them. Gettig explained that at many of the arenas where Connor provides NBA teams with their courts, those venues also host a wide range of events, like hockey games or concerts. For that reason, many NBA teams play on courts that can regularly go in and out of a facility. At the FIBA World Cup, on the other hand, Connor will be installing and removing the courts just once. With no need for speedy installation and reinstallation on a regular basis, Connor was able to improve technical aspects of the courts like vertical shock absorption. “To create a portable court where the main focuses are consistency, stability and quick installation and removal, you sometimes sacrifice on the vertical shock absorption, for example,” Gettig said. Following the FIBA World Cup, the courts used during the tournament will be resold to future customers, who will be able to sand, refinish and paint their own graphics. The durable nature of the courts -- the average Connor wood floor has an expected life of 37 years -- means the FIBA World Cup games could be the first of many major events played on those surfaces. Talks are already underway about who will own the courts after Sept. 14. Gettig: “We’re still having conversations with a number of prospective customers in Europe that are looking to take one or several or all of those courts. ... We sent them there and some of the Spanish arenas that are hosting are saying, ‘Well, we were thinking of buying a court anyway and we saved on freight. Maybe we can get a deal and they can just leave it here.’ So we’re negotiating with a number of customers that have that same hope.”
SPORT FOR HOPE
: FIBA and the NCAA are just a few of Connor’s most well-known clients. Connor is also the flooring supplier for the NCAA Volleyball Championships and works with USA Volleyball, the United States Tennis Association and the U.S. Soccer Foundation, among a number of other partners. Through those partnerships, the company provides courts for everything from public facilities to those used at the highest level of sports. One example of Connor’s involvement with not only pro sports, but also with grassroots programs, was recently on display in Haiti. On July 15, the IOC officially opened a Sport for Hope Centre in Port-au-Prince, the site of a massive earthquake in ’10. The center, built at a cost of $18M, was a joint initiative between the IOC, its key stakeholders and the Haitian Government. Among the many facilities offered at the complex are 12 basketball courts made by Connor.