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VOL. 131 | NO. 230 | Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grizzlies’ New Speaker Series to Enhance Bond With Businesses, Fans

By Don Wade

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On the court, the Memphis Grizzlies have a new head coach in David Fizdale and have remixed the roster with a heavier sprinkling of youth.

The Memphis Grizzlies are trying to connect with the local business community in new ways and grow the team’s fan base with a Keynote Speaker Series that tips off in December.  

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Change in the NBA is inevitable. And that’s true off the court, too, where business-side and sales employees are always seeking new ways to engage with the community and grow the fan base.

The Grizzlies long have been involved with the Greater Memphis Chamber and various civic events and causes. But their Keynote Speaker Series, which tips off on Dec. 8, represents a new venture.

John Walker, who is executive vice president of business operations, says other pro teams have done similar things. The Phoenix Suns, his previous employer, had a speaker series. But Walker says the credit for this idea goes to David Ridenhour, the Grizzlies’ manager of group sales.

“We’ve been trying to think of ways to connect to the business community in ways we haven’t,” Walker said. “The mechanics of the events are things that we’ve done. But in this form, with speakers over three days, that’s the new part for us. So it’s a speaker during the day with a ticket for the game that night.

“We’re hoping businesses find it’s a way to do professional development either for individuals or groups during the day, and then maybe do a little team-building at the game at night.”

The first speaker is Donald Miller. Combined, his seven books have spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller’s list. Miller is founder of StoryBrand and is based in Nashville where he teaches workshops, and has consulted with more than 1,000 companies to help them clarify their messaging.

Tickets to any Keynote Speaker Series event can only be purchased through the Keynote package and start at $79 per person. Miller will speak at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8; at 7 p.m. at FedExForum the Grizzlies play the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Monday, Feb. 6, Lewis Howes speaks at 2:30 p.m. and at 8:30 p.m. the Grizzlies take on the San Antonio Spurs. Howes also is a NYT bestselling author, high-performance business coach, former college and Arena League football player, and is currently a USA Men’s National Handball Team athlete, and in 2013 was recognized as a top entrepreneur under the age of 30.

The final installment of the Keynote Speaker Series will be on Monday, March 6, when Ryan Estis, chief experience officer of Ryan Estis & Associates, speaks at 2 p.m. At 7 that night, the Grizzlies play the Brooklyn Nets. Estis has a client list that includes leading brands such as IBM, Disney, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic and State Farm Insurance. He has been recognized as a top keynote speaker by Meetings & Convention Magazine alongside Bill Gates, Colin Powell and Mike Ditka, among others.

“We have folks who are renowned,” Walker said of the speaker list.

In a way, this series is a counterpart to the old “Chalk Talks” the Grizzlies have done where a basketball insider, be it a coach or general manager Chris Wallace, takes fans behind the scenes, said Dennis O’Connor, vice president of ticket sales and service.

Because the Keynote Speaker Series tickets can only be purchased through the Grizzlies, this gives the team another way to compete with the ever-growing secondary ticket market.

“That didn’t factor into our decision here,” O’Connor said of having the Keynote Speaker Series. “But it’s a way for us to generate new leads. We get everyone’s name and address.”

Said Walker: “We’re not bashful about trying to get people to experience the product in different ways and then going back to them with other opportunities. But that’s not the primary intent here. We feel like we have this great asset in FedExForum and are very connected to businesses in some ways, but we felt like we could be a host and a catalyst for something new like the speaker series.”

Several years ago, the Grizzlies joined the tier ticket pricing wave. In recent years, they have expanded the tier system and O’Connor says that now they have six levels, with a weekday night vs. the Philadelphia 76ers or Orlando Magic, for example, offering the most affordable tickets and the two Golden State Warriors games this season being the most expensive.

“It’s its own tier,” he said of the Golden State games.

Of course, one hope is the speaker series captures new fans who might never have considered buying game tickets in advance.

“They come out once, or three times, for the speaker series and, `Oh, by the way, we have the six-game mini-plan,’” O’Connor said. “So we stair-step them up and they become bigger Grizzlies fans.”

The Keynote Speaker Series, then, is a new entry point.

“I don’t think we feel like we need to do it,” Walker said. “We think we’re in a position where we can do it and do it successfully. Why shouldn’t we be a meeting and gathering place for businesses, a connector of businesses in the community and the region? We’ll see how it goes. And if it goes well, we’ll do more of it.”

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