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VOL. 126 | NO. 80 | Monday, April 25, 2011


Signs of Grizzlies’ success everywhere around town

By Sarah Baker

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During the day it houses some of the city’s best and brightest bankers and lawyers. But at night, its illumination continues, bearing the message “Go Grizz.” The First Tennessee Bank Building at 165 Madison Ave. is taking advantage of being the city’s sixth-tallest skyscraper to support the Memphis Grizzlies and their playoff run.

Local businesses get into the spirit of the Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff run, including the First Tennessee Bank Building in Downtown Memphis, which has spelled out “Go Grizz” in lights on its exterior.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“It’s a sense of pride, it’s a sense of community and it puts everybody on the same page,” said Phil Phy, senior vice president of sponsorship marketing for First Tennessee. “The fact that we don’t light the building all the time and its only use is for special occasions I think adds a little bit more excitement to the whole thing.”

But signs of how much the community has embraced the Grizzlies during their fourth trip to the playoffs – and first in five years – extends far beyond the Downtown skyscraper. Memphis International Airport went Beale Street Blue Thursday in support of the Grizzlies.

“When this team goes on the road, you don’t see ‘Grizzlies’ on the front of their uniforms, you see ‘Memphis,’” said Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board chairman Arnold Perl before introducing a “special guest” at last week’s monthly board meeting.

Airport spokeswoman Janice Young brought in a cardboard cutout of player Tony Allen, who has become a fan favorite in his first season in Memphis.

“Was he cleared by security?” Perl joked.

Memphis won its first-ever playoff game last week, coming on the road in Game 1 of the opening-round series against the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs. And even if the team doesn’t win another game in the series, the hype so far has had a dramatic effect on ticket sales.

For the 2010-2011 season, ticket sales improved 15 percent from the previous season, and a large portion of that came at the end of the year, said Greg Campbell, Grizzlies president of business operations.

“The consumer definitely saw that there was a playoff run in the team’s future and the play down the road truly got the imagination of the fans here in Memphis,” Campbell said. “When people get on the playoff bandwagon, it’s easier to show them how much fun it is in the stadium when the team plays well, and that relates to multiple seasons and multiple games that people will buy down the road.”

Longtime fan favorite Shane Battier’s game-winning 3-point shot in Game 1 didn’t hurt either.

“The momentum that we gained from Shane’s shot was incredible,” Campbell said. “It definitely got people off the couch and onto Ticketmaster and onto our box office.”

Ticket renewals for the 2011-2012 season are up 30 percent from the 2010-2011 season. New season ticket purchases are up 200 percent for next season compared to last. Game-day attendance is also up, hitting 14,650 this season compared to 13,485 in 2009-2010, according to ESPN’s NBA attendance report.

And a bump in attendance translates to a positive impact on concessions and merchandise. This season alone, food and beverage revenues have seen a 15 percent increase, while game-day apparel and paraphernalia have seen a 20 percent leap.

“As we get playoff merchandise in, it’s coming right off the shelves,” said John Pugliese, Grizzlies senior director of marketing communication. “It’s a great situation to be in.”

Caroyln Flaherty, a seven-year season-ticket holder, browses the Grizz Den on a regular basis. But at Wednesday’s watch party at FedExForum, she was proud to sport her 2005-2006 playoff season T-shirt.

“I’m wearing an old shirt tonight. Who knows, maybe it’ll bring better luck this time,” she said. “I’m a die-hard fan and I’m just so glad that we have improved this much this year. The people who come in for each playoff game have generated a lot of sales for the store, and it’s really helped to spread the word and make more pride in Memphis.”

Despite inclement weather, about 500 Memphians like Flaherty showed up at the most recent FedExForum watch party during the Game 2 loss that evened the series at 1-1, which featured activities such as face painting, inflatable slides and balloon animals.

Besides the First Tennessee building and the airport, some of Memphis’ most famous landmarks have joined in on the fun as well. Graceland and the Memphis Zoo converted their outside lights to Beale Street blue and Grizzlies gold, and the Pink Palace Museum dressed its white polar bear statue with flashy blue lights.

The UrbanArt Commission has even set up a giant “Believe Memphis” mural, the Grizzlies’ playoff slogan, on the corner of Union Avenue and November 6th Street.

“Our partners have such a connection inside the city,” Campbell said. “That’s so important for us to be able to touch the other consumers that can help them in business also.”

Because when fans pour into the arena to cheer on a winning team, that buzz motivates and inspires the players – who reciprocate by motivating and inspiring the entire city with their performance on the court.

“It’s a handing of the baton every time we win a game – it helps everyone inside the community,” Campbell said. “It’s going to be fun the next couple of months.”

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