Friday, November 30, 2001

As Others See Us

Memphis and the Grizzlies get mixed reviews from the national media.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2001 at 4:00 AM

If AOL's 32 million subscribers clicked on "Sports" Tuesday, they got a picture of Jason Williams and a story about the Memphis Grizzlies' win over Sacramento. That's the kind of "Big Time" publicity boosters were talking about when they brought the team here.

So how's it going elsewhere on the publicity front after the NBA's first month in Memphis? All in all, not so bad, particularly if you are of the just-spell-the-name-right persuasion.

Locally, WMC-TV general manager Howard Meagle is pleased with early television ratings for the Grizzlies. The regular season opener on November 1st drew a 12.5 rating on what Meagle called a night of "incredible competition," including the World Series. That was the only game televised so far on WMC-TV, although other games have been televised on affiliate Channel 50. Those games, Meagle said, have drawn a 5 in prime time and a 3 to 4 in afternoon slots.

The best is yet to come. In December WMC-TV will televise the Grizzlies' games against Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards and Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had kind words for Memphis and Grizzlies part-owners Staley and Andy Cates last weekend under the headline "Memphis Develops Into A Major Player":

"The Soulsville project is yet another high-profile enterprise in the continuing makeover of Memphis. A city with a rich cultural history, it long seemed reluctant or unable to play in the same go-go league as such aggressive Atlanta wannabe brethren as Charlotte, Nashville and Jacksonville. It's playing now. The city's first major-league sports franchise, the NBA Grizzlies, was lured from Vancouver this season, with a new $250 million downtown arena expected within the next few years."

The Wall Street Journal's Stefan Fatsis is a doubter:

"With few rock-solid markets left, the risk of trading one weak one for another grows. The NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies just moved to Memphis. Vancouver was a reasonable, if failed, Canadian experiment. Can the NBA succeed in Memphis, the nation's No. 41 TV market? The Griz are supposed to get a new arena and a new nickname, but attendance, so far, isn't encouraging: 19,000, 13,000, 11,000. Elvis is already leaving the building."

In Minnesota, Judge Harry Seymour Crump indirectly gave comfort to Memphis NBA backers in an order banning the owner of the Minnesota Twins from moving the team (with a name like Crump, we shouldn't be surprised):

"The welfare, recreation, prestige, prosperity, trade and commerce of the people of the community are at stake ... Baseball crosses social barriers, creates community spirit, and is much more than a private enterprise. Baseball is a national pastime."

Sounds like a blueprint, if not an actual citation, for the Memphis response to the Duncan Ragsdale lawsuit still on appeal.

The Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger doesn't have a Grizzlies beat reporter but does give Memphis top billing in its Associated Press roundup of NBA results. The Tennessean of Nashville covered the home opener with a feature by writer Joe Biddle:

"It was the second coming of Elvis, a full slab of Rendezvous ribs, and some sweet soul music rolled into one. It was ushers spit-polished in tuxedos, Memphis native Justin Timberlake of 'NSync with a stirring national anthem, and Memphis blues man Isaac Hayes making women go limp as he got way down with 'God Bless America.'"

Then Biddle gets down himself with a little analysis.

"Memphis long has been a hoops hotbed. Kids grow up learning a crossover dribble before their ABCs."

Oh? Has he been looking at our young hoopsters -- or our school report cards?

The Tennessean doesn't have a Grizzlies beat reporter, but Middle Tennessee NBA fans are now getting the Grizzlies on TV instead of the Atlanta Hawks. Fox Sports Net has added a 20-game package this season as part of a three-year contract. The number of telecasts increases to 25 in each of the next two years.

In Louisville, Kentucky, they're approximately where Memphis was one year ago in the NBA courtship. But the mayor and Board of Aldermen are sharply divided over the merits of a new arena, which, of course, is the price of admission.

"Mayor Dave Armstrong's office has been working for three weeks with a private consultant on a financing plan for a pro basketball arena in Louisville," says the Louisville Courier-Journal this week. "The consultant, The Goal Group of Washington, D.C., is the same firm that a committee of the Board of Aldermen voted against hiring last week. The committee's recommendation is scheduled to go before the full board tonight [Tuesday]. But Steve Magre, the board's president, said yesterday that he would table the discussion because he doesn't believe there is enough support on the board to build an arena -- let alone hire a consultant."

The Goal Group was recommended by Memphis officials, who used the firm to help lure the Grizzlies.

As you might expect, there's not much cheering in Vancouver.

"Hey, the Grizzlies open their NBA regular season schedule tonight," wrote columnist Gary Kingston of The Vancouver Sun. "In the Pyramid in Memphis. Against Detroit. Of course, that's if you still care. Don't care anymore? Don't worry. It's a widely held view."

The Sun didn't send Kingston or anyone else to the opener, which may explain things. Bet a few complimentary beers and some barbecue would put his mind right.


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