Charting A Youth Basketball Success Story
September 19, 2018
Mitch Storch has built a sizeable basketball empire in North Jersey. A self-proclaimed Mecca of hoops in the Garden State, his organization has been forward-thinking from the jump. A progressive approach to fees and cost structures, a robust social media presence, and an aggressive expansion plan, are just a few reasons why his youth sports organization has flourished. To learn more about Hoop Heaven’s “secret sauce,” pull up a chair and take in our Q&A with the architect of this youth sports success story.
Hoop Heaven will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, and both the organization and the youth sports space has seen tremendous growth since the late 1990s. What is the most striking difference today between that first year and your business today?
When Hoop Heaven opened in 1999, the first event we did was a youth basketball tournament. And interestingly, at the time, there really weren’t a lot of teams out there. It was actually weird. We wanted to start our own youth program, but we didn’t have enough teams to play. We almost had to play ourselves for a while until more and more organizations formed and we had competition for our kids. And now that has changed completely. The explosion of teams and quality competition, I think a lot of it has to do with our competitive society. Parents are always trying to find ways to have their kids keep up with other kids.
Your social media channels feature NBA players who have stopped by your facility over the years. How much has that helped grow your brand?
In the beginning, it was super important. The market was much smaller at that time, so when I had all of the best Nets players when the Nets were good, it really made a big impact. Having access to professional athletes or names that the kids today look up, that helps differentiate your organization.
One of my employees worked for the New Jersey Nets in the video department and he had access to the players simply by being around the practices and just went up to guys and said: “would you ever be interested in doing a camp?” The players were genuinely thankful that somebody really cared about what they could share with young players. It was both a vehicle for the players to share their experience and a mean for them to give back. We were able to start with Jason Collins, and once you build credibility with an athlete, that signals to other players, parents, and youth athletes that you’re a respectable organization. You can build on that first impression with other pro athletes and that’s what we’ve done over the years.
Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas with a group of Bridgewater campers doing a video shoot for the Jr. NBA . Wow! pic.twitter.com/Q4ATvQ2Hyu
— Hoop Heaven (@HoopHeavenNJ) August 9, 2016
Additionally, as a flagship member of the Jr. NBA, we had access to first-year NBA players through the rookie transition program. The rookies put on a clinic for my campers. In a lot of ways, it was mutually beneficial. The campers loved it and the rookies learned how to interact with their fans, and how to handle interviews while being on camera. It’s a win-win for my organization, the NBA and the Jr. NBA.
Basketball has been at the forefront of leveling the economic playing field in youth sports. How has your organization tackled the financial component of youth basketball participation rates?
Most of what we do is league-based, and we get all different types of teams. We see grassroots organizations, which fundraise to participate in the leagues, as well as teams comprised of players from wealthy families who can afford any costs associated with participation. We understand that most people operate off of a budget, so to that end, we try to work out deals that can coexist within those budgets. In addition to flexible payment plans, we offer older kids an opportunity to participate in our work-play initiative. Essentially, they can be the scorekeeper for league games to reduce their fee to half or less. In addition to the financial impact, it’s a learning experience for the kids and provides a job that teaches responsibility, which is a win-win. We are looking to try and form a grassroots foundation to help some more economically challenged families participate. We’re looking to set up that foundation in the coming year.
What is next for Hoop Heaven, perfecting what you’ve already done or branching out to new things?
We are taking a serious look at esports. We want to put forth a coordinated effort in which we run esports events and leagues while simultaneously kids are playing real basketball and sports in the same facility using our space. It’s no longer an either/or scenario. Athletes play video games. It’s our contention that there is a market to give kids an opportunity to both play physically on the court and play mentally in the esports arena. This is one area of expansion that I’ve given a lot of thought to recently.
And this has benefits not only for our business, but for the athletes themselves. Burnout and repetitive stress injuries are on the rise. It would be extremely beneficial if these kids could diversify their interests and reduce the wear and tear on their mind and bodies. There’s no reason that esports and competitive sports can’t coexist and actual benefit one another.
From a growth perspective, the LeagueApps’ platform also affords us the opportunity to grow our business as efficiently as possible. For a long time, we were so paper-oriented, collecting boxes and boxes of waivers, registrations, really every kind of document under the sun. And we we weren’t properly utilizing our data as a result. Now we can put that data to work for us. We can see the history of each player, which programming they’ve signed up for, how they pay, which gives us direction as we promote for certain events or add-ons. LeagueApps allows us to be a lot smarter in everything we do.