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VOL. 10 | NO. 12 | Saturday, March 18, 2017

Grizzlies Updating FedExForum With Fans’ Enjoyment in Mind

By Don Wade

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Every NBA offseason brings questions about the roster for the next season. But regardless of on-court changes for the Grizzlies’ 2017-18 season, FedExForum will be improved with multimillion-dollar upgrades highlighted by a new high-definition scoreboard roughly four times the size of the current board.

The Memphis Grizzlies are updating FedExForum with several digital improvements, including a high-definition scoreboard, along with a new terrace sports bar and upgraded courtside club, among other things.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Grizzlies recently informed season ticket holders of the coming changes when sending out materials about renewing their tickets.

“We wanted them to be the first to know,” said Jason Wexler, president of business operations.

The Grizzlies are the only NBA team still using a standard-definition scoreboard, so this will bring them up to speed with the rest of the league. Wexler said fans had not complained about the current board, but when they visited other arenas they were quite impressed by the tricked-out HD video boards other teams’ fans had come to expect as part and parcel of the NBA experience.

The Grizzlies’ lease agreement with the city of Memphis requires the city to keep the arena up to NBA standards, but that essentially means maintenance, repair and capital improvements that would not be deemed discretionary.

“Overwhelmingly, the team will be out of pocket on the digital improvements,” said Wexler, and those improvements also will include new outdoor and in-arena HD video displays, ribbon boards and LED lighting systems. “Probably talking 90 to 95 percent of our spend.

“We’re gonna put it out to bid, so we don’t want to put a price out there.”

One expense fans won’t see is the new control room needed to support the HD system. The board that the Grizzlies, who manage and operate FedExForum, ultimately choose will have to be compatible with the arena’s shape.

“We’re one of the roundest buildings in the NBA, which is great for basketball,” Wexler said. “Madison Square Garden’s that way, too.”

He says the board there and the one at the Detroit Pistons’ arena offer insights on what might be a good fit at FedExForum. Some other arenas have much longer boards that he says wouldn’t work here because “they’d overwhelm our building.”

In practice, Wexler says, they want the new HD board to be an added value for all fans.

“It’s about entertainment – from the most casual fan to the most diehard fan. We want them to enjoy the experience,” he said. “All ages.”

With split-screen capability, it’s possible the new HD board could simultaneously help a young fan new to basketball to better understand when to cheer while tossing out a few advanced analytics for the ultra-serious fan.

“For our game ops crew, this is going to be an amazing new toy,” Wexler said. “A little more pop, a little more pow.”

How much information to give fans, especially in the area of advanced stats, is still a work in progress, Wexler says, adding there is a danger of “bombarding” fans with too much information.

Wexler uses this analogy: “I went to a concert and had a great time, but I had no idea what key the guitarist was playing in.”

Beyond the digital upgrades, the Grizzlies are planning other enhancements. John Walker, executive vice president of business operations, says these were informed by opinions from season ticket holders and what they saw when traveling to other sports and entertainment venues.

“It was clear to our group that our (spaces) for our premium customers needed refreshing,” he said.

Fans in the upper bowl are not being ignored; Wexler said the terrace level will be getting a new sports bar.

There’s also the Bud Light Bar off the lobby, where the Fox Sports Southeast studio crew does its pregame, halftime and postgame reports. It also became a gathering place when the Grizzlies had a game that coincided with Game 7 of the World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs.

“We had sort of a viewing party,” Walker said. “It was packed.”

Down on the event level, an open space that currently includes a huge projector screen so fans can follow the game while getting drinks will get an overhaul with new lighting, updated tables and chairs, and new HD TVs.

Previously, the space served courtside fans, but now they’ll use what currently is called the Horseshoe Club. Fans previously using that space will now use one around the corner from what will be an upgraded courtside club that might take on a new name.

“We’re flipping the spaces and refreshing both areas – new look and new feel,” Walker said.

All of this information was given to season ticket holders, too. Wexler says some season ticket holders are committed no matter what, others are on the fence about renewing, and still others might be looking for a reason not to renew and significant upgrades in the event experience could bring them back into the fold.

“Every season ticket holder has a different world view,” he said.

Meantime, the current season rolls on, the playoffs loom and the summer will be filled with making all the promised enhancements before the first preseason game in October.

On the business side, there is no offseason.

“It never stops,” Walker said.

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