The founders of the BIG3 basketball league know that, three seasons in, there is still some negative perception of their product that they’re trying to overcome.
“This is not old guys playing basketball,” co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz said in a conference call on Tuesday afternoon. “This is athletes playing a game that is uniquely suited to their skills.”
Given that mindset, it made total sense to the BIG3 execs to have a place like Salt Lake City host a slate of games for the first time, which will happen Saturday, July 27 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“Salt Lake has always had swag to me. I’ve been coming there a lot over the years to do Summer Jam shows. … The place always had great crowds,” said rapper, actor and league co-founder Ice Cube. “… To me, it’s a no-brainer. It has a stigma, but every time I’ve come there, they’ve always come out — even more than some of the cities you think they’d come out in. Whenever I hear something said about Salt Lake City, I just come away thinking they’ve never been there. I’ve always had a great experience there.”
Now, those who run BIG3 are hoping they can treat basketball fans from Utah to a great experience, as well.
For those who don’t know, BIG3 is a weekly slate of 3-on-3, halfcourt games featuring rosters stocked with former NBA players, such as Amare Stoudemire, Gilbert Arenas, Nate Robinson, and former Jazzman Joe Johnson. Halftime comes with the first team to reach 25 points, and the winner is the first to 50. The league’s signature gimmick is a pair of painted circles beyond the arc that are worth four points when players hit a shot from there.
The league expanded to 12 teams for 2019, and features a nine-week regular season and a two-week playoff tournament.
Ice Cube said the league has been steadily growing over its three years of existence, and he hopes that putting new cities on the itinerary can accomplish that.
“We expect this to be the fabric of American sports. We want to be a part of everyone’s summer. … There is a place for 3-on-3 basketball. There’s an appetite from players and fans,” he said. “… We’re a little cocky with it, but we got Joe Johnson, Stephen Jackson, some of the best players to ever lace it up. We feel like this sport can grow.”
There were some questions about how much appetite this market has for this product, though, considering that just this week, Ticketmaster slashed prices on the cheapest seats for the event from $30 down to $15, despite a trio of ex-Jazz players (Johnson, Al Jefferson, DeShawn Stevenson) set to play in the three games slated for Utah. (The teams of two other former Jazz players, Carlos Boozer and Carlos Arroyo, will be on bye weeks then.)
Kwatinetz, a former music and entertainment promoter, spun that as an intentional move, rather than as a reaction to sluggish sales.
He said the No. 1 criticism of the league came from families who said that, with “cheap” tickets starting at $27.50 or $32.50 plus fees, they were simply priced out of being able to take their kids.
BIG3 IN SALT LAKE CITY
When • July 27, 7 p.m.
Where • Vivint Smart Home Arena
Format • The BIG3 basketball league features 12 teams of former NBA players competing in 3-on-3, halfcourt games to 50 points. The league also features a 4-point shot area. The SLC event (Week 6 on the league’s schedule) will feature three matchups: 3’s Company vs. Killer 3s; Ball Hogs vs. Triplets; and Bivouac vs. Aliens. Former Jazz players Joe Johnson, Al Jefferson, and DeShawn Stevenson will be among those competing.
Tickets • Prices range from $15 to $375 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com.
Given that, he said the league partnered with the venues and with Ticketmaster to reduce the cost for myriad events, figuring that the ability to get to the games and experience the atmosphere would help build the fan loyalty necessary to ensure the BIG3’s continued existence.
“On that front, so many people were saying it that we realized we’re cutting off part of our audience,” Kwatinetz said. “… Even if it means that the gross dollars in tickets goes down, we’d rather have more people that are really excited about it. The success of this league will be where we are in 3-5 years.”
After first noting that a recent event in Providence, Rhode Island drew 13,000 fans, he also pushed back specifically against the notion that the price cut in SLC was done to bolster attendance. As a music promoter, he said, he had plenty of shows that required a lot of work to convince people to attend. This, he said, is not that.
“This was to really expose more people to the league, which helps a lot of people long-term,” he added, noting that sponsor Adidas stepped in with some extra money to help make up the financial difference. “… It wasn’t about tickets. It’s about exposing more people to the product.”
And the product, they’re convinced, will keep people coming back.
“Not only are these games entertaining, but people always come away impressed by how passionate the players are,” said league commissioner and Hall of Gamer Clyde Drexler. “They all want to win.”
“If we’re near your town, you gotta come out and see us,” added Ice Cube. “[Watching on CBS] is great, but there’s nothing like seeing it live.”