Don’t tell us, show us. This is how you make an impression.
What is effective in many aspects of life applies to the business of holding events at Savannah’s newest showroom, Enmarket Arena. The facility, which officially opened in February, is so new that it doesn’t have this much track record for sporting events – yet – but it builds on its resume with every event hosted.
“Here’s the thing. It’s not about showing them that’s what you can do,” said Monty Jones Jr., general manager of the Enmarket Arena. “It’s about getting examples of some (events) that you’ve done.”
Hence the added significance of this week’s inaugural Hostilo Hoops Community Classic at the Enmarket Arena. The regulation of Division I college basketball has eight women’s teams playing Monday through Wednesday, then off for Thanksgiving, and then a total of 10 men’s teams hitting the court Friday through Sunday.
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It’s a classic format rather than a tournament, where the entire schedule is predetermined. The women’s teams—Fairleigh Dickinson, Illinois Chicago, Austin Peay, Davidson, Norfolk State, Purdue Fort Wayne, UT Martin, and Marshall—play their first three days at 11:30 a.m., 2, 4:30, and 7 p.m.
The men’s teams have a different schedule, with Friday games at 11 a.m., 1:30, 4, 6:30, and 9 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30, 5, and 7:30 p.m
The competing schools are James Madison (coached by former South Georgia head coach Mark Pennington), South Dakota State, Valparaiso, Towson, Fairfield, South Alabama, Evansville, Mercer, Robert Morris and, on Friday only, Coastal Georgia.
It’s a festival for hoop enthusiasts and also a beta test, if you will, for the Enmarket Arena. The multi-purpose facility’s basketball operation went for a test drive with the Harlem Globetrotters debuting in April. That was one night, a mix of entertainment and basketball by a professional touring team that had been around for what seemed like forever.
This is six days of rings, hosting a double number of teams and their supporters in Hostess City, with all its infrastructure in the hospitality and tourism business: hotels, restaurants, shopping, transport, tours, etc.
“Having these examples as our introduction in our first tournament, it just helps us,” Jones said Friday.
Assistance with future editions of the Hostilo Hoops Community Classic, which Jones said will feature teams from Power 5 conferences. He confirmed previous reports that the University of Georgia and Xavier are committed to the 2023 tournament, with those contracts still being finalized and more announcements possibly coming in As soon as this month.
More hoops, including the NBA?
Also helped in terms of attracting other basketball events, such as men’s and women’s conference championships and NBA exhibition games.
On the latter, Jones said the arena will look to schedule games for NBA teams in the next two to five years.
“I’ve already outlined some of those commitments,” he said. “It’s just part of us continuing our conversations with the teams to come here and fit it into their schedules. When looking here for Savannah, it’s just surrounding us, you have Charlotte, Atlanta, Memphis, Orlando. So it’s all in driving distance, pretty much driving distance.”
The arena will feature the Savannah State District Court and the Georgia Southern men’s and women’s teams. Their athletic directors have expressed interest in the possibility of staging regular season games against high-interest opponents at the Enmarket Arena—for example, the Eagles playing UGA or Georgia Tech on a more neutral field.
SSU has Tiger Arena and GS has Hanner Fieldhouse and is building a larger collection center, so it would make sense for them to play a home game off campus.
Enmarket Arena would also be interesting as a conference tournament site. Georgia Southern plays in the Sun Belt, a Group 5 conference with men’s and women’s hoop championships through 2025 in Pensacola, Florida. SSU is a member of the NCAA Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, whose championships are played in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
“It’s all about building those relationships and familiarity,” Jones said, noting that Enmarket Arena officials work with the Savannah Sports Council, the Savannah Visit and other local tourism offices such as the Greater Bowler Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. Basketball event the week of Thanksgiving.
Jones said their pursuit of college sports is not limited to the conferences they associate with Georgia. Nor is it limited to basketball. Conferences, from the majors to the mid-majors, are looking for attractive venues for other sports, from volleyball to wrestling to esports.
“We can still look forward to hosting the ACC tournament without a home affiliate team in that conference,” he said. “Even looking at the Big 12 or something like that, where you don’t have a team around. You don’t have to have a school in your close area in order to host that.”
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Enmarket Arena is not big enough to play in the SEC or ACC men’s basketball tournament. The tournament limit is around 8,500, said Jones, who believes the women’s tournament can’t be ruled out.
“It’s all about what the demand is,” he said.
This year’s Hostilo event offers seating in the lower bowl and not the upper level, so about 5,500 seats, Jones said, adding that future events could include the entire arena.
The idea of squeezing in more seats, from floor seating to standing room only, might bring the idea of hosting the first round of the NCAA tournament. This is not something Jones would rule out.
It should be noted that this is the city’s second attempt at a Thanksgiving week basketball event. The Savannah Invitational ran for two years at the Savannah Civic Center and included Georgia Southern men (2016) and Savannah State women (2017) as well as DI programs from around the country.
Savannah is “Hockey City”
The early success of Savannah’s premiere professional ice hockey team, the Ghost Pirates, in selling out the arena for games this month won’t go unnoticed by the ECHL franchise’s NHL peers.
“It just takes a way to show, especially with this season, to show that Savannah is a hockey town,” Jones said.
Savannah could be a pre-season stopover for the NHL’s Ghost Pirates, Vegas Golden Knights, or any of the teams that play in buildings operated by the Oak View Group, like the Seattle Kraken, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Arizona Coyotes. The Oak View Group manages and operates the Enmarket Arena.
Jones said the Ghost Pirates’ capacity for hockey games (6,876) wouldn’t stop NHL teams from playing preseason games here.
“The majority of them play in larger facilities, but they play at that venue, to win new fans,” he said.
Savannah can show, with examples, that it has the facilities and amenities surrounding a hockey putt. Add this sport to the list, with possibilities for more basketball, volleyball, wrestling (collegiate and professional), electronic sports, and martial arts, who knows? Beach volleyball?
“It’s wide open,” Jones said. “We will not look to limit ourselves.”
Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor for the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at email@example.com. Twitter: @NathanDominitz