Monday, March 13, 2006

And It Still Tastes Like Lemon

You know the old saying: If someone gives you lemons, make lemonade. Take a look at this Commercial Appeal editorial on the Grizzlies' move to increase ticket prices:
The Grizzlies have pulled off some smart moves during their five-year relationship with Memphis, and count this one as downright brilliant on the part of the front office: Ticket prices are going down.
They can't sell enough tickets at the regular price, so they're discounting. Does this say something about demand for their product? Or their handling of it and their relation to their city and fans? No, according to the CA. It means they are marketing geniuses! Brilliant!
You can't fault majority owner Michael Heisley for trying to make a buck on the Grizzlies. But the ownership team knew from the start that running a big-time professional sports franchise in Memphis would not be like sitting under a money tree.
Really? When this was being sold to Memphis it sure was presented that way. NBA in Memphis! Prestige! Tourism! Downtown boost! Economic impact! As the only NBA franchise in the whole region, we had a real honeypot on our hands. Or so we were told then.

And the hoopla about the FedEx Forum was unending. A world class facility. State of the art. Every convenience and luxury. Come and see it!
A University of Memphis study conducted prior to the team's 2001 move from Vancouver found that the income needed to finance a new arena would have to come at the expense of other sporting events, Tunica County casinos, savings accounts, vacations and the like.
Really? I don't recall this getting very much press at the time. All I remember hearing was the boost to the downtown, the economic impact on surrounding businesses and hotels and restaurants.

And strictly speaking, the "income to finance a new arena" came from the City of Memphis selling bonds to pay for it. The income the facility generates, and much of the tax revenue, doesn't go to the City or to bond retirement, but into Heisley's hands. To borrow a mindset from the CA: That's a smart move. Brilliant!
The Grizzlies may be the only major league sports game in town, but there is competition for the limited resources in one of the smallest and least affluent communities in the NBA. So the Grizzlies came to town with some of the lowest ticket prices in the league and a big basket of hope.
It sure wasn't presented that way! It was supposedly a no-fail winner, a real coup, making up for the horrible faux pas of letting the Titans slip away. People who expressed reservations were belittled and brushed aside. Remember Duncan Ragsdale and Heidi Schafer? The Mayor, NBA Now, and the paper labelled them nay-sayer and impediments. You won't see the CA calling them prophets now, will you?

I'm a bit surprised on one count, to be honest. No question that Memphis is Roundtown. Basketball was exactly the right professional sports franchise to bring here. The Tigers remain insanely popular.

So if b'ball isn't the problem, what is? Hmmmmm....
Raising prices with the move from The Pyramid to FedExForum simply hasn't worked out well. The Grizzlies are now finding ways to cope with home crowds that average 15,914, ranking 26th of 30 teams in attendance this year.
First, I'd like to know how we rank population wise versus our attendance ranking. In other words, if we're the 28th most populous team on that list, but we're 26th in attendance, then that's not so bad, is it? But if we're 19th, then....

Isn't there a codicil or provision in our contract with them that kicks in if average attendance drops below a certain number? Where the City starts making payments to the Grizzlies? Does anyone remember what that floor is?
Fans aren't staying home because they don't like the team. With most of the schedule available on TV, they're staying home to keep from going broke on tickets, parking and concessions.
So what does the CA suggest the City do about that? I'm still waiting to hear.

Parking for the facility is inadequate. It was in the original design and that was made only worse when some 1000 parking spots were lopped off to keep the FedEx Forum under budget. No additional surface parking was created nor has the City made any efforts to address the horrendous public parking problem downtown. (An elephant in the room story if ever there was one. WPTY/24 looked into this, but I can't find any story links yet. I have an email to them pending and will update this if I hear anything back.)

Stories about getting in and getting out downtown on busy days are everywhere, and they are uniformly awful. So what's being done?
So season ticket prices -- not single-game tickets -- will drop on about a third of the seats in the 18,000-seat arena, mostly in the upper levels, by 40 to 47 percent, starting next season.
This isn't a "pricing adjustment" but a fire sale! It's also rather carefully limited, wouldn't you say?
Not as exciting as a blockbuster trade, maybe, but a move that should pay off in the long run.
At least that's what they're hoping, but don't count on the CA to point that out.

Don't forget, to make lemonade you also need some sugar. It seems the CA is perfectly willing to ladle it out.

INSTANT UPDATE Kudos to the folks at WPTY/24 for responding so quickly. Those stories on FedUp Forum construction can be found here (construction shortcuts), here (follow the money) and here (updated building codes or just shortcuts?). Thanks, Julia.

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