Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Pera Presser: Highlights from Owner Robert Pera's Second Media Address

Posted By on Tue, Feb 12, 2013 at 1:23 PM

Robert Pera, from his debut appearance before local media. He returned today.
  • Robert Pera, from his debut appearance before local media. He returned today.
New Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera made his first visit to FedExForum since his post-changeover debut, meeting this morning — along with CEO Jason Levien — for a roughly 20-minute press conference with local media.

Pera and Levien wore matching Grizzlies warm-up gear, evoking visions of Ben Stiller and his sons in The Royal Tennenbaums. There was no topping that, but they did have some interesting comments on a variety of topics.

Here are some highlights, all comments from Pera unless otherwise indicated:

On his overall impressions of team:

The thing I like most about the Grizzlies is that when you look at basketball, it's different from other sports. In baseball, you can put together a team of all-stars and the sum kind of equals the total of the parts. But in basketball, it's a team sport and there's a lot of chemistry. And certain players, depending on how they come together, the sum of the parts could be much greater. And that's what I really like about Grizzlies' basketball. With the latest trades and the way the team's constructed, I think it has the potential to be the best Grizzlies team yet.

I really like the way the parts fit, with the traditional inside-out game. I think if they gel, hopefully it could be the best playoff run yet.

On the timing of the trades:

I think the most unfortunate thing about the trades was the timing. I really wish we could have gotten a deal [to purchase the team] closed before the beginning of the season and made all the personnel moves before the season started, to give these guys a full year to play together.

But I think if you look at the year before last, when they upset the Spurs as the 8th seed, the [main] pieces from that run are still here now and I think the supporting pieces we've picked up are even stronger. So, like I said, if the team comes together and gels in the second half of the season, it's going to be really interesting.

On personal interaction with team:

I'm pretty busy with my own career, so I watch the games whenever I can and Jason's running everything on the day-to-day. But we had breakfast with Lionel this morning. He's a great guy. I like him a lot. I talked with the players earlier.

On Rudy Gay:

I was actually a big Rudy Gay fan. He's 6'9” with over a seven-foot wingspan and a 40-inch vertical and really smooth, athletic. On the highlights all the time. He's awesome. But the offense we run is a traditional, inside-out offense. And Rudy's talent couldn't be maximized in our system. I think it was good for him and it was good for the team. I think with the pieces we got back, we're much stronger.

I wouldn't say the players we got back were better than Rudy. But for our team and our fit, I think the personnel and the team we have constructed now is probably the best Grizzlies team in terms of the total team, chemistry, and style of play.

On Lionel Hollins' future:

I think all that, for now, is confidential. The final decision will come down to Jason and I'll approve whichever direction he wants to go.

Levien: I don't think it behooves us to speak publicly about any kind of contract situation. We had a great meeting with Lionel and I've certainly enjoyed the interaction he and I have had over the last several months. And he's got a proven track record that's very impressive as a coach. We see him as a big asset for the team.

On the prospect of a Zach Randolph deal:

Levien: There was never a serious discussion or dialogue over trading Zach Randolph this season. I can say that categorically. We're really proud of him for going back to the All-Star game and what he's done for our team. There was a lot of speculation media-wise, but none of it was for real.

On the reaction to the Gasol-Conley dinner:

I was surprised. I think it was kind of a mound turned into a mountain. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Jason told me those guys wanted to meet me. I think I was flying out that next morning, from San Francisco, so the timing worked out. It wasn't really a meeting to discuss the team or its business. It was just kind of to get to know the guys. Hopefully I can go out to lunch or dinner with other players and get to know them on a personal level.

On fan interaction:

I actually follow the Grizzlies' forum on the web quite frequently. What I kind of realize now, being in this position, is that it's hard to please everyone. Even the presidents, their approval ratings, at maximum, are in the 60th percentile, right? So whatever moves you make, it's impossible to please everyone. So what we have to do is have confidence and stick to our vision.

The problem is that once you have a strategy, it's like chess. You'll make a move to set up the next move. And I know the media and people are very impatient.

A good example is that the first trade. On the surface it wasn't a good basketball trade at all. But it put us in a position where we could get leverage and get great value in the next deal. So if you look at them as a whole, I think we did very well.

Follow-up on his fan-forum visits:

When I go through the forums, there's no common thread or opinion. A lot of people have varying opinions. I just try to learn and get some insight. A lot of fans follow the game and may have some insight that I may not see. So I just go there to listen and learn.

I kind of said, 'Hi. I'm listening to you guys.' They didn't believe me though. They thought I was some fake user. But I'm there.

On community investment involving Ubiquiti:

I've donated equipment to the Memphis school district. We've donated both wi-fi equipment similar to what we're deploying in the Forum as well as video surveillance equipment. Today we're going to visit some schools, and we're also going to St. Jude hospital.

If you look at Ubiquiti, we're about empowering people and democratizing high-end technology to make an improvement in emerging worlds and emerging markets. And I'd like to do the same thing here and I'm anxious to do what I can to give back to the city of Memphis.

On the perception of a “shoestring budget” and the team's financial approach:

First of all, I run my real business, Ubiquiti Networks, definitely for profitability. For the Memphis Grizzlies, I don't want to profit. The primary goal is to win and make the city of Memphis proud. But, at the same time, when we did this deal, we were kind of strapped a little bit because we were paying for, I think, the original relocation to Memphis. The sponsorship was fully loaded with upfront payments, so we didn't see that coming in.

But whether I'm worth a billion dollars or ten billion dollars, I don't think throwing money is the way to get a best result. Look at the Lakers. They threw together all these stars and a huge payroll and it's not working out so far. So I think you can't be cheap, and I don't think we are cheap. Compared to some of the top teams, like the Spurs, the Clippers, the Thunder, we're on par, with about the same payroll.

[Levien interjects: “We're on pace to spend the same on payroll as all those teams, if not more.”]

So I believe if you have a superior front office, if you're paying the same payroll as the top teams in the league, you should be able to make a team competitive or better. I don't think throwing money is the way to build something.

On the Sports VU tracking system half the teams in the league have purchased:

Levien: Robert and I have talked a lot about it, because of his passion for technology and mine as well, especially in the context of sports. I've spent time with our front office, Chris [Wallace], John [Hollinger], and Stu [Lash], talking about it as well. It's great to collect data, and we want to collect that data. We want to make sure we're ready to implement a system where we can utilize it. We're in the process of doing all of that now. We're sort of laying the foundation so we can be as technologically savvy as we can be in terms of helping us make decisions.

On business strategy and season-ticket sales:

Jason is much more involved with the details, but I talk to him frequently. I think the largest areas of improvement, I think we could get more out of sponsorships. And the other big one is local media rights. I think there's potential for revenue leverage there.

Levien: I also would say, in terms of tickets and participation, we need the community to come out. We're not the deepest community in terms of NBA cities. So we need to get our fans out to every game. We need more season-ticket holders. We need more fan engagement. That's something that it's on us to work for. We've got to earn it. We've got to show the city and leaders in the community that we're something for them to come and be a stakeholder in.

On the need for more personal engagement:

Levien: Well, I've learned that, maybe the hard way. After we closed the transaction and we had a few weeks to watch the team, I thought, let me take a few weeks to step back and watch and learn and get information. And I started getting some people upset that I wasn't talking more. And so I've learned that that's very important, and it's really my role, to be out there talking about our vision and Robert's vision for the team. And our discussions and what our strategy is. But we also can't be too transparent about our strategy, because we have 29 other competitors who listen to what we say, and if we're playing chess, we have to be careful with that. That said, it's important for us and important for me to articulate a vision and engage the fans and engage the community. And I've committed this year to call all of our season-ticket accounts, each one individually. And I've started that process. We've got more than 3,000. We need to listen to what our stakeholders have to say, because they're really the engine that drives us. And to express what our vision is. It's all about winning, in the community and on the basketball court. And to have sustained success. As Robert said, we're not always going to make the popular decision. There are going to be decisions where we have confidence and we've thought them through and strategically like our plan. But we want to articulate that plan so that our fans understand it.

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