JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Competition at the 65th annual NEA Invitational Basketball Tournament at the ASU Convocation Center kicked off Monday morning. A field of 58 teams will be playing the next week and a half in Jonesboro. According to Billy Carter, Tournament Director, basketball games equal big business.
"We'll get anywhere from 3,000 a day that pay to 6,000 a day that pay. There are quite a few that come in with the team and get in free and Triple A passes get in free," said Carter. "It brings people to this Jonesboro area from a 60 mile radius. They come and the husband might get dropped off to watch basketball all day while the wife is at the mall."
Carter told Region 8 News that the tournament hasn't changed much in its 65 year history. For several years, local businesses have seen an uptick in sales.
"I think it'll be busier. It's already been busier than it usually is for when ASU is out. Our business increases significantly whenever something is going on at the Convocation Center or after football games and basketball games. We prepare for it," said Kirstyn Wyatt, who has worked at the Johnson Subway for two years.
"We had a day where it was me and another girl working and it was usually a slow day because when ASU goes on break, we don't have as much business. We found out there was a tournament and thought, you know, maybe we can handle it. It turns out a couple of teams came in, we had to call someone in. It was hectic, but we got it done," said Wyatt.
Wyatt said the store prepares more food on game days at the Convocation Center and when the football team plays a home game.
"They'll come watch a ball game and do some last minute Christmas shopping on the way back or do it before the game according to what time of the day they play. This tournament has brought a lot of impact the Jonesboro area and they're glad to have it I know," said Carter. "Spend money on gas and the teams, a lot of them, the school will go feed them somewhere after a ballgame, so those businesses are getting that benefit."
Carter said the number of participating teams has decreased in recent years, but he expects the tournament to continue its long history.
"It's going to be here for a while I believe. It may get smaller in some aspects of it, but the people are going to come because they love the NEA Tournament," said Carter. "In some of these smaller communities, they live for this every year. That's their Christmas wish is to win the NEA."
Carter said all boys' games will be played on the main floor at the Convo. Girls' games, until the semi-finals, will be played on the upper court.
"Some of them come in to see the teams and some of them come because they hate a coach of a certain team and they'll come here against them, but that's basketball," said Carter.