For Southeast Alaskans outside of Juneau, the Gold Medal Tournament offers a chance to show off skills, settle old scores and hold veritable family reunions.
For Juneau residents, the tournament offers all that and more: a significant amount of money spent at local stores, hotels and restaurants.
Tournament officials estimate that 3,000 people come to Juneau in an average year to participate in or watch the weeklong basketball tournament.
"Most everyone from Southeast villages are here in Juneau this week, because the schools are closed down for spring break," said tournament co-chair Sasha Soboleff. There is hardly anyone in Angoon today, hardly anyone in Kake today."
Juneau economic observers have not estimated the total money spent in the capital each year, but it starts with $40,000 in ticket sales by the Lions Club.
For many who attend the tournament, the spring trip to Juneau is the main vacation of the year, Soboleff said. Villagers save their permanent fund and Native corporation dividends to travel to Juneau and shop while they are here.
"Costco does a heck of a business this week, so does Fred Meyer," said Soboleff.
Dennis Cole, marketing manager at Costco, confirmed Soboleff's impression. The store has about 25 percent more customers this week than on a normal week outside of the holiday season.
Tournament attendees buy clothes and food mostly, but they also get work done on their cars and splurge on some big-ticket electronic items, Cole said.
Though many people who attend the tournament stay in friends' homes, on boats or at churches, the shopping done during the week probably makes up for what is not spent on lodging, said Lorene Palmer, executive director of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Because the type of spending done at the Gold Medal Tournament is so different than at other conventions, the JCVB has no way of estimating how much money the tournament brings to Juneau, Palmer said. But the impact is substantial.
"People are staying here for such a long length of time, and they're spending on shopping and activities and eating out, so we know they're have a significant impact on the community," she said.
The Gold Medal Tournament is a social and cultural boost to Juneau, Palmer said.
"It's a whole different feel from a typical business convention," she said.
Directors of the tournament believe the economic boost lasts long after the last point is scored.
The Juneau Lions Club, which organizes the event, uses ticket revenues for college scholarships and donations to local nonprofit organizations, Soboleff said.
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