MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE 

MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

Here’s a joke I heard, with apologies to the originators whom I can’t remember: A guy, named Max, walked into work one day. Max was pissed. His buddy Wally said, “Hey Max, what’s wrong?” Max gets all disgusted and replies, “My little brother is so stupid. He took our Grizzlies tickets and ‘accidentally’ left them on the dash of our car with the windows open.” “That’s not good,” Wally replied. “You’re telling me,” said Max. “When he got back, there were four tickets instead of two.” Whether the Grizzlies would fill arenas (either existing or theoretical) served as a focal point of the team’s arrival to the River City. The Grizzlies, in their first Memphis season, have under performed by NBA standards, falling roughly 2,000 tickets shy per game from the league average. NBA and Grizzlies brass have waxed eloquent and long on the devotion of the city, and the league’s relative good cheer that Memphis would bring in about 14,000 a game. These numbers occur despite a team with over thirty losses through this season. But then those pesky public Pyramid people posthumously posted numbers that did not correspond cleanly with those of the Grizzlies. More specifically, the Pyramid recently reported average Grizzlies attendance to be about 2,000 less than what the Grizzlies claim to be the average attendance. No Griz brass were available for comment. More surprising to a Memphian’s ear is that the University of Memphis Tigers are doing the same sort of thing. Eh? Didn’t the mighty blue and gray sell out the Pyramid for the season? Yes, but on the other hand, the school has only reported around 12,000? Attendants per game while the same public Pyramid report showed -- like the Grizzlies -- 2,000 less butts in the seats. Kevin Growthe, Associate Athletic Director at the U of M in charge of these ticket counts, says that the University is only doing what everyone else does -- with one or two further tricks. “The first number that we provide is the NCAA attendance figure,” Growthe says. “That is your paid attendance figures. That’s what goes in the box scores. When they rank conferences and institutions, that’s what they go by.” According to Growthe, paid attendance -- like the NBA -- includes tickets bought by students, fans, and includes complimentary tickets for the families of coaches and players, for U of M big wigs, and whomever else rates such a seat. “That’s the most accurate number there is,” Growthe says. “That’s what every institution does.” Then the Tiger athletic staff takes that one extra step. “What we try to do locally, and you don’t see this across the country, is to try and give the number of people who are in the building that night,” Growthe says. Those people include Pyramid staffers, event security, and whomever else can get by the gate in each game. According to Growthe, those numbers are “minute” in relation to the gate numbers, and shouldn’t affect the overall count. But there is a further step that Growthe doesn’t detail in the aforementioned process but relates later in his conversation with the Flyer. Apparently, U of M staff actually creates some counts by looking up into the stands. “Where the discrepancies become more apparent is in the big games, like the Louisville game, where the ticket stub count was in the 17’s [thousands],” Growthe said. “If you looked around with the naked eye, you couldn’t have squeezed 2,500 more people in the arena.” So, in other words, Growthe et al added a couple thousand to that number to round things out. What exactly is the problem here? If the Tigers and Grizzlies have actually sold the tickets, then why should anyone bother with whether anyone comes to the games? The first answer is that no one does care. “To be honest, the figure we are most concerned with is tickets sold,” Growthe said. “If you are comparing apples to apples, if you are comparing Louisville to Memphis, [tickets sold] is the one common thing that you can use with 100% certainty to compare with your peers across the country.” But, according to Growthe, the U of M does more with those numbers than only compare themselves to other schools. The Tigers use those numbers to make budget projections, to beg money from the University and the state, and to get money from the city (since the Pyramid is city-owned). Also, the attendance number affects the event staff the Tigers must hire, the amount of parking the school must secure, and -- most importantly -- the amount of security the Tigers must provide in this post 9/11 era. The Memphis Grizzlies use their number counts for the same sort of decisions. But the stakes are higher in that the Grizzlies are parleying their respective attendance numbers into a quarter billion dollar arena that will make the biggest architectural impact on downtown in Memphis history. Money makes the machine of sports go around, and adding a hundred or a thousand in attendance here or there can certainly grease the wheels of that machine. So, despite the perhaps knee-jerk reaction of this attendance stuff not mattering, further consideration bereft of the talking heads can show that being able to count is probably a good skill for Grizzlies management and the AD staff of the Tigers. The two biggest games in town are no joke, and no one should laugh at the game these two groups play. ODDS AND ENDS NOTABLE:
  • Useless fact for the day: During the Grizzlies 2000-2001 season, the squad was 17-36 by February 18, 2001. By the same date in 2002, but the Griz are 15-37.
  • Despite missing several games due to injury, Grizzlies guard Jason Williams currently ranks sixth in the league in total steals with 80 over 42 games and an average of 1.9 spg. Williams also remains in the top ten in the assists category, with 7.6 apg.
  • Rookie forward Pau Gasol hits a bunch of his shots. He’s currently ranked sixth in the league in field-goal percentage, hitting 52% of his attempts. Gasol also ranks ninth in the league in blocks per game (2.3), and ranks 16th in the league in rebounds, with 8.9 per game.
  • In case you are frustrated with the Grizzlies’ recent toe woes which have sent Williams and forward Stromile Swift to the bench, not only has L.A. Lakers Center Shaquille O’Neal been limited by his own legit digit problems, Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson has now sat two games with an unfortunate phalange strain.
  • Why the Washington Wizards like Michael Jordan: Last season's per-game ticket gross at Washington’s MCI Center was $400,000. This season, it's $850,000. That 125-percent increase will result in a $20-million increase in ticket revenue for the 2001-2002 Wizards' season.
  • Here’s your list of offensive line recruits for the U of M Tigers for 2002 (see article): Blake Butler (6’3”, 270 lbs); David Davis (6’4”, 285 lbs); Willie Henderson (6’7”, 260 lbs), Bruce McCaleb (6’2”, 260 lbs); Phillip Walls (6’1”, 275); LaVale Washington (6’1”, 255 lbs).

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