Although he didn’t know it at the time, Jason Potter got his first taste of event promotion while studying business at Indiana University.
That’s when he and his friends created a grassroots movement to market Indiana’s football program, which he admits playfully, “is not a story to program.” But it certainly was a learning experience, and one that the now 34-year-old Potter draws on often in his role as director of promotions and event presentation for the Memphis Grizzlies.
“When I look back, I had no idea that I could do this as a job,” Potter said. “But the things that we did there were working with the athletics department and trying to build excitement around Indiana football. Now it’s on a bigger scale, but that’s what we do – try to build a coalition of fans and community partners to get excited around a program. In that case, it’s Indiana football. In this case, it’s Memphis Grizzlies basketball.”
Potter moved back home to Memphis upon graduating from Indiana in 2000. That was the year AutoZone Park opened its doors, and also when Potter picked up on one of his favorite aspects of Memphis to this day: access.
“I was attending a lot of games and through some friends, made some introductions with people there,” Potter said. “Next thing I know, I was an intern with the Redbirds pulling tarp, selling ads and tickets.”
That summer, the Grizzlies came to town. Through Potter’s experience with the Redbirds, he had an opportunity to strike up some conversations with the right people, and landed a job working with the NBA basketball team full-time during their first season in 2001.
“That’s a credit to Memphis I think,” Potter said. “I’ve found in my experience everyone to be very approachable when you express interest and do your homework. I’ve got to imagine that to be a much more challenging prospect in a larger market.”
Potter’s team is responsible for the in-arena fan experience at FedExForum for Grizzlies games. In other words, any form of entertainment for home games that doesn’t include the basketball players.
That includes pre-game plaza events and the pre-game show, the Grizz mascot, the Grizz Girls, the Claw Crew, Grizz Line, Grizzlies Grannies and Grandpas, and all of the audio and video elements in conjunction with the broadcast team.
“We oversee all of the lighting, the bells, the whistles,” Potter said.
Potter’s job also entails showcasing corporate partners’ brands. And as evidenced by a recent write-up in The Wall Street Journal, he’s pretty good at it.
The publication featured the Grizzlies’ half court shot promotion – something that two-thirds of NBA teams will do throughout the season. But here’s the catch: instead of a cash prize, Potter arranged with sponsor Sonic Drive-In to award any fan who hits the shot a lifetime supply of tater tots.
“There’s certain things you would expect when you come into an arena. ... But we wanted to have a little more personality with it.”
Director of promotions and event presentation, Memphis Grizzlies
“My team has a philosophy that there’s really not a lot that you can do that’s new,” Potter said. “We view ourselves as being good at enhancing existing ideas – building on it, putting our own personal spin on it and making it ours. How can we get attention for something in a new way to deliver attention for our sponsor? That’s the goal in your corporate partnerships is breaking through that clutter.”
Meanwhile, Potter’s team creates a unique in-game song selection that was the focal point of an article on sports website The Score last month. Writer Andrew Unterberger said when it comes to NBA arena music, “there is no equal for FedExForum.”
That’s due in part to FedExForum standards like Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is” and The Gap Band’s, “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.” But home games aren’t complete without Memphis-centric beats like “Whoop That Trick” from “Hustle and Flow” and the Grizzlies’ signature victory song, DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win” – with a special Grizzlies-specific verse from Memphis rapper Freesol.
And it goes beyond those still somewhat mainstream songs. The music heard during actual game action is unique to FedExForum, as the music selection that is queued up for the Grizzlies’ halftime sets are as diverse as the crowd, ranging from The Budos Band, the Pixies and A Tribe Called Quest to local rappers and Memphis Stax standards.
Potter again attributes that recognition to his team’s innovation and invention.
“There’s certain things you would expect when you come into an arena – you’re thinking of certain hits, the big songs for the big moments, the Jock Jams and all of that stuff,” Potter said. “But we wanted to have a little more personality with it. We wanted to make it a part of Memphis and really weave into the great musical fabric that exists in our community.”
When he’s not pumping up Grizzlies fans, Potter is an avid cyclist. Last year he helped form a team called Boscos Cycling that raised more than $30,000 for multiple sclerosis awareness and research.
Potter also enjoys hanging out with his wife, April, in their Cooper-Young neighborhood. The couple just had their first child and is “having fun with the new scheduling” that she brings.