Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley went on Sports 56 Middays in Memphis today. He discussed a lot of things, but his main topic of conversation was Larry Ellison’s failed bid to buy the team, and by that token, what it’s going to take to keep the Grizzlies in Memphis for the long haul.
Heisley said that Ellison was told that the team "cannot be moved" until 2021, and that even if his people could find some legal way to move the team before then, the NBA would more than likely step in to block it.
He also added that Ellison "wasn’t serious about his offer to buy the team" (which I took to mean that Ellison balked at Heisley’s reported $350 million asking price), and that the stories in the press recently about Ellison’s offer were leaked from his team. In characteristic gruff Heisley fashion, he insisted that he "didn’t know why his people released that they were trying to buy the team, because it wasn’t going to be moved."
He went on to say this:
I want to find local ownership; I want to establish this team in Memphis and make it an essential part of the city’s culture, and then find a local ownership group.
Heartening news for Grizz fans in Memphis, no doubt.
Heisley went on to say that the main thing that has to improve in order to Memphis to remain a viable NBA market are ticket sales. He reported that ticket sales are currently lower than they were in 2005, during the Pau Gasol era. Although he did say that this year’s sales are much better than last year’s, it was apparent from his comments that when the Grizzlies’ lease is up in 2021, the NBA isn’t going to be as interested in fighting to keep the team here if they’re not selling tickets and making money. The team will never get to take full advantage of revenue sharing unless it meets certain attendance targets set by the league. If the Grizzlies are meeting attendance goals by then and the franchise has proven to be financially viable, the league is far more likely to block any potential move.
When asked what the team had to do to get ticket sales where they need to be, Heisley said that "[The Grizzlies] just gotta make personal contacts with people and try to convince them it’s in the interests of the city and of the citizens to support to team. We’ve got to do a better job of selling the Grizzlies and making people believe that this is a very, very important piece of Memphis.
Towards the end of the interview, Heisley said that Chris Wallace should be a candidate for Executive of the Year for the way he’s put the team together this season, especially in light of the early injuries to Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur. Heisley praised Wallace for turning an overabundance of talent at the guard position (Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez) into quality players in the frontcourt (Marreese Speights, Dante Cunningham, and Quincy Pondexter).
In perhaps the funniest thing an NBA owner has said all season, Heisley also commented on his Three Year Plan to rebuild the Grizzlies into a playoff team, building the team around the young core of Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and OJ Mayo. When the team was terrible in the rebuilding years following the Pau Gasol trade, Heisley and Wallace always insisted they had a Three Year Plan in place that would make the team good again.
"Let me tell you," he said. "That plan was worthless as tits on a bull if I hadn’t had Chris Wallace there to do it."
And there you have it.
What do you think? How will the Grizzlies continue to grow ticket sales given the current economic climate? Does the city owe it to the team to buy tickets, or is the team responsible for being good and drawing people?