Each year, a Chicago firm called Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. publishes a tongue-in-cheek report on the nation’s lost productivity during March Madness.
The figure reaches into the millions of dollars as basketball-crazed fans shirk their job duties and tune into NCAA tournament games on their computers or smartphones.
A similar phenomenon happens in Memphis this time of year as well. And though it doesn’t reach the scope and magnitude of the Big Dance, the beginning of basketball season is a special, albeit distracting, time of year in Memphis.
As the action at FedExForum begins anew, so does the optimism from Grizzlies and Tigers fans, who have eagerly awaited media day, exhibition games and, finally, the season openers.
Without a doubt, the 2012-2013 season brings high hopes – and high expectations – for both teams, as outlined in this week’s cover story by The Memphis News sports writer Don Wade.
But as fans put their TPS reports on hold to discuss Joe Jackson’s ability to handle the pressure of the spotlight, or to call a sports talk show and opine on Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay’s ability to coexist on the court, something else happens beyond analysis of the X’s and O’s.
The city’s economy gets a boost.
A couple times each week, fans pour into Downtown bars and restaurants. They spend money to park. They pull out their credit cards at the arena to buy everything from barbecue nachos to beers, from cheap foam claws to authentic game jerseys.
While Downtown merchants, FedExForum managers, concessionaires and merchandise vendors relish the return of basketball to the Bluff City each fall for financial reasons, fans have much more to be excited about.
Grizzlies fans don’t have to endure a months-long lockout, and they also get to see how the franchise is handled by a new ownership group that is headed by tech businessman Robert Pera and includes local partners plus celebrity entertainers (Justin Timberlake) and athletes (Peyton Manning) with strong Memphis ties.
And with new players to complement a veteran core, the Grizzlies can focus on one thing – overcoming the bitter, disappointing end to last season that unraveled when they blew a 27-point lead over the Clippers in Game 1 and then dropped Game 7 of their first-round playoff series, both at home.
Tigers fans will demand more than merely making the postseason. They want to beat a Top 25 team and win an NCAA tourney game, feats Josh Pastner has yet to achieve in three seasons of an otherwise successful tenure.
With new additions like Geron Johnson and Shaq Goodwin joining fan favorites Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas, the final year of languishing in Conference USA before joining the Big East should be a joyous one for Tiger Nation.
The Grizzlies and Tigers are back. So go ahead, take a few moments away from the workaday world to savor and share it.