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Volume 21 No. 34
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Floored: Final Four contract raises Connor Sports’ profile

Workers in Idaho Falls, Idaho, stain and seal the court for the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four.
For sport floor manufacturer Connor Sports, the road to the Final Four begins in the thick forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

In the region’s rich timberland, the company taps into sturdy sugar maple trees to produce basketball courts for men’s and women’s tournament play in arenas across the country. The process culminates in the NCAA Men’s Final Four, which in 2018 is set for the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Connor Sports, the NCAA’s official court provider since 2006, has been making basketball floors since 1914, a little more than 20 years after James Naismith invented the game. More than a century later, the Chicago-based firm produces 12 new courts annually for the NCAA’s highest-profile event. It’s a number that has grown from the five floors Connor Sports initially made for the NCAA tournament, said Andrew Campbell, the company’s director of partnerships and events. The increase was driven by the NCAA’s desire to maintain a consistent look and feel to the courts, resulting in the production of additional floors to accommodate the regional sites and two Final Four venues, plus the fan fest events, Campbell said. The nine courts used for the first- and second-round games are owned by the NCAA and used over multiple years. Connor Sports stores those courts between events.

It costs about $120,000 to produce one college basketball floor, according to Jon Isaacs, vice president and general manager of Connor Sports (SportsBusiness Journal, March 28-April 3, 2016). Company officials would not disclose expenses tied to their partnership with the NCAA, but they said the deal has helped Connor Sports expand its sport floor business internationally over the years.

“Since we’ve had this contract, we added the [2016] Olympics and FIBA World Cup,” Campbell said. “It’s paid dividends. Now, when people think about these larger events, Connor becomes synonymous with the ability to pull off [events] of this size.”

For the NCAA tournament, the manufacturing process starts in September, shortly after the NCAA and Connor Sports reviewed the previous year and decided on the floor design and color scheme for the coming tournament.

It takes meticulous planning to build enough time into the process from when the wood is first delivered to the mill to the moment the floors are set up at the tournament site, considering the company’s daily business on a global level.

“We’re working around schedules for NBA and NHL games, concerts and other events at multiple arenas,” Campbell said. “The scheduling part of it is probably the most difficult and crucial part of the whole tournament to make sure those floors show up when they’re supposed to.”

The stadium floor for the men's Final Four is 10,000 square feet and one-third bigger than other floors.
In the UP, Connor Sports finds forests whose property owners are committed to sustainable harvesting. The timber is shipped to a nearby sawmill where the logs are cut into boards. The lumber is then transported to Connor’s mill in Amasa, Mich., a town of 300 residents just across the Wisconsin border. It takes about five days in Connor’s mill to form the average NCAA basketball court, which encompasses 250 wood panels, each measuring 28 square feet, said Jason Gasperich, Connor Sports’ director of sustainability.

By late October — apart from the much larger men’s Final Four floor which is harvested in late fall — the new courts are shipped to one of three large warehouses in Roswell, Ga.; Apple Creek, Ohio; and Idaho Falls, Idaho.

At those three outposts, the new floors are put together for the first time, and along with the existing courts, are painted, stained and branded for the upcoming tournament with NCAA logos, plus the venues’ names displayed along the court baselines.

“If there are games at TD Garden in Boston, for example, the floor will probably be finished in Ohio and not in Idaho,” Campbell said. “We’re shipping courts across the country in March, when there’s snow and rain, and that’s something we keep an eye on to keep transit time down as much as we can.”

Most of the floors get painted in December through January. The men’s Final Four stadium court, which at 10,000 square feet is elevated on a platform and one-third bigger than the other floors, is the last one to get painted in mid-February, Campbell said.

It takes about three weeks from the time the floors are sanded, painted and sealed to the point where they’re ready to be shipped for delivery to the venues. Connor Sports now works with regional trucking companies after teaming previously with UPS, a former NCAA sponsor whose deal expired prior to the 2017 tournament.

Connor Sports has supervisors at every tournament site through the event. They help arena operations crews assemble the floors and ensure the surfaces are ready to go for team practices before the games, as well as the morning before competition.

For the Final Four, the winning school has first rights to purchase the floor from Connor Sports, which it can then use at its home arena or cut into pieces and sell to alumni. In some cases, Isaacs said, it’s produced up to $1 million for the university, tripling the school’s investment.