VOL. 132 | NO. 174 | Friday, September 1, 2017
Grizzlies’ Grind City Media Expands Into Football Coverage
By Don Wade
Last September, the Memphis Grizzlies launched their new in-house digital news and information platform: Grind City Media.
Now, Grind City Media is trying to drive that initiative farther down the field, as it were, by adding college football coverage.
“Even if it doesn’t lead to more Grizzlies awareness, it could lead to more FedExForum awareness, more sponsorship awareness,” said Jason Wexler, president of business operations for the Grizzlies. “And all those things work hand-in-hand. Fewer and fewer folks are responding to traditional media the old way.”
Meaning, fewer fans – and potential fans – are depending on newspapers, radio and television to follow their sports teams. Many want more control and engagement, preferably on a mobile device they can hold in their hands wherever they are.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ in-house digital news company, Grind City Media, is expanding coverage into college football to capture the interests of existing followers and tap more Grizz fans. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
When the Grizzlies rolled out Grind City Media last year, Michael Wallace, who formerly covered the NBA for ESPN.com, was hired to lead the coverage. The team also hired Alexis Morgan as a digital content reporter.
“Last year was more about of proof of concept than anything,” Wexler said. “The personalities we hired as journalists, the community responded to them. We produced great content.”
Naturally, Grind City Media covered the expansion of itself. On the Grizzlies’ website, Wallace wrote: “We get it. We’re a basketball city in the heart of the nation’s most fanatic college football region. There are plenty of great stories in both sports to bring to our current followers and to attract new readers, viewers and listeners.”
Wexler had long noticed that on Saturday nights in October and November at FedExForum, many fans would fly the colors of both the Grizzlies and their favorite college football team. He already had a sense of how big college football was in the market, but seeing that just confirmed it. So did television ratings from big games.
“We want to tap into that passion,” he said.
Building the Brand
There is no off-season. Not on the business side. Not for the Grizzlies, the NHL’s Nashville Predators, the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, or any other pro sports enterprise.
The Predators, fresh off a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, are celebrating their 20th season in Nashville. Times have never been better.
Still, they are in a nontraditional hockey market. So while they are ever at work building their brand through digital platforms, they put enormous emphasis on their commitment to supporting youth hockey.
Center Marc Gasol is one of the faces of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise, but the team’s in-house digital news company is expanding its coverage beyond NBA basketball into college football to increase the team’s overall fan base. (Daily News File Photos)
“That’s the best way to grow our brand,” said Kevin Wilson, who is director of communications for the Predators. “Introduce the sport at a young age and they’ll grow up as hockey fans.”
In Memphis, basketball’s roots go deep. Pre-Grizzlies, the market consistently drew the highest TV ratings among non-NBA cities. In this way, the Grizzlies have a leg up.
In recent years, the Grizzlies’ business and front office staff has made a point of saying they don’t feel like they are in competition with the University of Memphis or the Memphis Redbirds. In fact, this past week the Redbirds and Grizzlies were to join together for yet another “Grit and Grind” night at AutoZone Park.
So, no surprise, college football also isn’t viewed as competition.
“We know Grizzlies fans are college football fans and for a lot of them the Grizzlies come first,” Wexler said. “But for a lot, college football comes first and that’s OK.”
Televised Grizzlies games go into regional markets such as Nashville, Little Rock, Ark., Birmingham, Ala., and St. Louis.
Those are also places from which people might drive to Memphis for a concert or WWE event at FedExForum.
And anytime anyone from Memphis or points beyond is engaged with Grind City Media, that’s an opportunity for exposure to the team’s business partners.
But to get to this stage – where Grind City Media is expanding to include coverage of University of Memphis football, Ole Miss, the Southern Heritage Classic, and other SEC teams of high interest such as Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi State – Wexler says they had to establish legitimacy in the NBA coverage.
“We were very clear that the content needed to be authentic,” he said. “We’re not putting words in anybody’s mouth. Anybody paying attention to our basketball coverage knows we’re not micromanaging anybody’s takes on the sports world – like with Chris Vernon’s podcasts.”
Likewise, when the Titans decided they wanted to hire their own beat reporter for coverage on their website they looked no further than Jim Wyatt; for years he was the Titans beat reporter for The Tennessean.
“Jim had gained a lot of credibility in our market,” said Robbie Bohren, senior director of communications for the Titans. “Fans could trust him and what he was writing.”
Digitally, the Titans have remained focused on their singular brand. Same for the Predators.
“As far as branching out to other sports, I don’t think we’ve ever explored that,” Wilson said, adding that he finds what the Grizzlies are doing with Grind City Media “intriguing.”
This new phase for Grind City Media will include daily podcasts, live streaming and soon the Grizzlies will hire a full-time college football reporter to lead the new coverage.
Expect to see Grind City Media personnel doing videos from The Grove in Oxford and Tiger Lane. There also will be some college football features and analysis.
When it was mentioned to Wexler that venturing into college football could leave the team open to criticism from sensitive fan bases, he didn’t seem worried.
“Any negative response we get from somebody, we’ll just take as par for the course,” Wexler said.
And no, he wasn’t hinting at Grind City golf coverage. At least not yet.