Basketball isn’t an unusual offering, but structured basketball leagues are against the norm in most health clubs. While it isn’t a common practice, an organized basketball league is a great way to engage members, especially those with a competitive nature.
The Sparrow Michigan Athletic Club (MAC) in East Lansing, Michigan, has been running its own men’s basketball league since 1993. Because it allows members to experience competition at a higher level than just pickup games, the league is very popular.
“We average 90 adult men playing in each league,” said Mark Sanford, the athletics coordinator at the MAC. “I’ve only got room for 10 teams, and I always max out.”
To effectively run a basketball league in a health club setting, Sanford has identified three basic necessities:
According to Sanford, the quality of the referees is especially a key determinant for success, as they can easily be a strong point of contention for players of any sport. “You could run the best league in the world, but at the end of the day, if your players are all upset because the referee wasn’t that great, that’s what they’re going to remember,” he said.
Based on over two decades of experience, Sanford has continued to develop the league and add new features. The “extras” he incorporates go beyond the basics of a typical basketball league and are part of what makes it so popular among members and guests of the club.
“I’ve always used this philosophy: ‘Everybody else does what you’re doing someplace nearby, so what makes yours better?’” shared Sanford. “Why can’t I make mine better? How can I make mine better?”
To help the MAC’s basketball league stand out, here are some of the “extras” he implements:
Stats and standings. For years, Sanford has taken it upon himself to track each team’s record and statistics throughout the regular season. “I list records, and I list the 15 or 20 top scorers of the league, and how many games they played and what their average is,” he said. “I also write about a player of the week — I pick a guy who had a solid week, and I write up a little bit about his game and what he did to deserve it.”
Championship dinner. “The two teams that make it to the championship get to eat at a nice pizza restaurant in a plaza that’s right next to our facility, on the league,” said Sanford. “I also take the time to film the championship game and we show it afterwards at the restaurant, while we’re eating pizza. The guys love it.”
Email updates. At the conclusion of each night of games, Sanford sends out an email update to the league with game results, and live statistics and standings. “The games are competitive enough that guys like seeing their stats,” he said. “To them, it matters who beat who, and they like to see what’s going on with other teams in the league.”
Free agent list. “If you call in as an individual, we don’t forcefully place players on teams, but I tell guys I’ll go to bat for them,” said Sanford. “I’ll try my best to help them find a team. I comprise a list of people who are looking, and then if managers find themselves a player or two short of their comfort zone, they know I’ve got that list and I try to match up players with teams.”
The “extras” make the MAC men’s basketball league feel like a local NBA of sorts, and the club’s members continue to respond positively to it. In fact, the league even serves as a boost to member acquisition, since friends and family members of league players get a chance to see the club when attending games.
“If you have a longtime member and all of a sudden, their buddy can play, that’s really cool to them,” said Sanford. “Then the buddy is playing on Sundays, loving the league and spending time around the club. I’ve created a whole lot of members out of allowing guests to play.”