It was ten minutes before the Memorial Day Grizzlies game against the San Antonio Spurs, and outside the FedExForum visitors were being urged to “believe.”
Believe, Memphis, that the team would come back after three straight losses and win the Western Conference Finals. Everyone was sure this was going to happen.
In case you missed the game, it did not end with a blue Bear doing a victory dance on top of the Alamo.
And while it might have been a tragic evening for fans like Miles Brown, who by his own estimation, spent more than two thousand dollars on tickets and team merchandise since the playoffs began, others in this excited crowd walked away in a slightly better condition after the loss.
Like Shun Stotts, whose small business, Parties with Pizzazz, was hired by the Grizzlies to do face painting.
“Normally at games they just come get their faces painted, but this time people were really going all out to get their faces painted, even giving a hundred dollar tips.”
The seven home games of the playoffs meant overtime pay for bandleader Garry Goin. His group, the official house band of the FedExForum, got a nice bonus for each extra gig.
“(These games) brought maybe an extra 15 to 20 percent of my income for the year,” Goin said.
Goin says that it was a simple matter of supply and demand. As NBA fervor grew, local business simply worked harder to feed the bear.
Tee-shirt designer Eric Evans spent every game night working in his store to keep up with the demand for his basketball themed shirts.
His original designs, available in his boutique clothing store, Sachë, on South Main, were a big hit with fans. One popular shirt says “The Grindfather.” Another says “Screw Calm and Grind on.” They flew off the shelves so quickly that Evans ended up silk-screening new ones while people waited.
His business partner, John Sylvester, was surprised not only with the popularity of the shirts, but of the uptick in spending all over downtown.
“We never went into this thinking we’d develop some sort of t-shirt niche, it just sort of happened that way,” Sylvester said. “One of the most important aspects that I’ve noticed with this latest playoff run is the fact that you were able to go after not just the market share of the people coming in, but also the wallet share, because they’d come down to our store and then they’d go down to, say, the Green Beetle to go eat. Then they’d check some other places out that they’d never normally do.”
The Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, in 2010, estimated that the Grizzlies and the FedExForum generate an annual economic impact of more than $223 million. It includes what people spend on hotels and retail sales.
It’s hard to say at this point just how much each of the seven home playoff games added to that total. But you can do a head count. Seven sold out games, each with 18,000 people. That’s 126,000 extra visitors to downtown this year, for basketball alone.
Ty Agee, president of the Beale Street Merchants Association, compared the playoffs to the Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis fight in 2002. His restaurant, Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe, had between 30 to 50 percent higher sales than last year at the same time.
Of course, the biggest winners are the team’s owners, whose marketing strategy during the playoffs focused on selling season tickets.
The Grizzlies can pinpoint game five of the first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers as the watershed moment when season tickets sales took off. They’re now 20 percent higher than at this time last year.
John Pugliese, Grizzlies vice president of marketing, communications and broadcast, said that getting in the playoffs has expanded the regional fan base of the Griz.
“We’ve seen within our playoffs and within our playoff TV ratings an increase in the Nashville markets,” Pugliese said.
At the moment, it seems that everything Griz is gold. Wanna turn that station wagon into a grizzlies bandwagon? On Wednesday, State Senator Jim Kyle filed legislation to create a Grizzlies specialty license plate.
It’ll take a vote of the assembly and a thousand preorders to make that happen, but if the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators can have one, then surely there are enough people out there who think – nay, believe -- that Memphis should have one, too.