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Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha.
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Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha.
The Knight Eady Sports Group is barely a year old, but it’s way past the toddler stage. The sports marketing and managing firm has gone from crawling to walking to running in a hurry, becoming a big name in Birmingham and Alabama sports.
The company, founded by Michael Eady of Hoover and David Knight of Homewood, won the rights in July to manage and market the two biggest high school events in the state — the Super 7 state football championship and the basketball State Finals, formerly known as the Final 48.
The Alabama Sports Foundation through its Bruno Event Team had previously run the Alabama High School Athletic Association events. That contract expired in June. KESG’s agreement runs for three years.
Knight and Eady met in college at the University of Alabama and became friends. Upon graduation, Knight went to work in the Southeastern Conference office, and Eady worked first for Martin Advertising and then with the Colonnade Group, a major player regionally and nationally in sports event management. Their paths often crossed while they were working for their respective groups, and they decided in June 2013 to start their own company.
“We wanted to create and market unique high school and college sporting events that give kids unique platforms to compete, grow and have great experiences through competition,” Knight said. “We know the value of what scholastic sports does for kids — youth, high school, collegiate level — how kids can grow through athletics and become leaders and do some special things that can only happen on the playing surface and not in the classroom.
“Our mission here is to create those unique opportunities and platforms.”
Added Eady, “I think the best way to describe what we do is if you’re going to build a home or building, you’re going to have a general contractor. In the event world, we’re the contractor. We do a lot of things in-house, the marketing, the logo development, and then you’ve still got to hire security, people to take tickets, people to sell tickets, ushers, referees, someone to operate the scoreboard, to do PA announcing. You’ve got to schedule traveling for some of these teams, work out deals with hotels. And of course, sell tickets and sponsorships. It’s all-encompassing.”
KESG made its first big splash with the Steel City Invitational high school basketball tournament, which started out as a Mountain Brook High holiday basketball tournament. Chris Nix of the Birmingham Tip-Off Club, which was a partner in the event, approached Knight Eady about managing the event. Mountain Brook envisioned it becoming the top holiday tournament in the region. KESG thought it would be a step up to stage it at Samford’s Pete Hanna Center, with MBHS as host, and it was met with rave reviews.
Nix, a Vestavia Hills resident, has since come on board with KESG as chief development officer. Nix has also taken over the task of choosing the teams that will play in the event this December.
Knight Eady also runs three other basketball events: Border Wars at Hoover High, which pits Hoover, Ramsay and Mountain Brook boys teams against three teams from Tennessee; Kings of the Court, an all-day, 24-team, two-site event at CrossPlex’s Bill Harris Arena and Birmingham-Southern’s Bill Battle Coliseum on MLK Day; and Nashville’s Next Level Hoopfest.
For the AHSAA events, KESG has been in charge of designing new logos for the Super 7 and the State Finals, the new name for the now 56-team boys and girls basketball championships. While they were at it, they freshened the association’s logo, which includes a star that can easily be used in branding Alabama prep sports.
Knight Eady also reached an agreement with the Florida High School Athletic Association to expand its corporate sponsorship program.
KESG’s biggest national coup, however, is landing management of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2015 and 2016.
Though the events themselves are big, Knight and Eady said they know it’s often the little things that make the experiences special.
“I think the people who came out to the Steel City Invitational kind of walked in and said, ‘Wow! This is different,’” Knight said. “A lot of it is visual, whether it’s signage or logos or programs, T-shirts, coaches’ polos … these are just ‘things,’ but they create a big-time visual appearance.
“We say it a lot around here: We’re taking the college template of how events are run and applying them to the high school events we’re doing.”
That approach leaves a lasting impression, Eady said. Players in a state championship may be playing their last game. It should be memorable and first-rate.
“Like with the Steel City Invitational, all the players got a nice credential with a lanyard, which may seem petty, but we gave them personalized bag tags with the Steel City logo and it had their name and number on there … that’s a little thing that will stick with them forever,” Eady said.
It also is a benefit for sponsors.
“I’m a perfect example of that,” Eady said. “I played in the state basketball championship game for Briarwood Christian as a senior in high school, and it’s impacted me for the rest of my life. If there’s a sponsor attached to that, it’s with me for the rest of my life.”