NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Grizzlies don't want to just be Memphis' team anymore, they want to cast as wide a net as possible in building their fan base.
Memphis is the only NBA team for hundreds of miles, so the Grizzlies are looking east to Nashville, south into Mississippi, west to Arkansas and north to St. Louis. It's why they went on a promotional trip into five cities and three states last month. The push also is why the Grizzlies opened their training camp Tuesday in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.
A small market team needs as big a footprint as possible these days.
"That's absolutely true, and we're the only NBA team for quite a geographic distance," Grizzlies chief executive officer Jason Levien said Tuesday. "So we don't just want to be Memphis' team, we want to be Nashville's team, and that's important for us. It's important for the growth of our team, important for competitiveness within the NBA, and we're fortunate that we've really connected with fans here."
The Grizzlies' new owners and management started working harder to woo fans last season, even with some bus trips down for games. Memphis winning a franchise-record 56 games and making its first trip to the Western Conference finals certainly helped attract interest, but the TV ratings also made it clear people outside of Nashville want to watch the Grizzlies.
"Our ratings in Nashville exceeded some teams' ratings in their home market, other NBA teams," Levien said. "So we want to thank our fans. We want to connect our team with our fans. Even more, we want to build that fan base and continue to build upon our relationship with the Nashville community."
Nashville already has two major league franchises in the NFL's Tennessee Titans and the NHL's Predators, but that didn't stop the Grizzlies from starting training camp in Music City. The Grizzlies are practicing at Memorial Gym through Friday, though sessions are closed. They cap the week Saturday with practice open to fans, and new Memphis coach Dave Joerger and guard Mike Miller are holding a basketball camp that morning.
Joerger, hired in late June to take over the Grizzlies, said holding training camp away from Memphis gives the new coaching staff and the rest of the team time to get to know each other better. The extra benefit is luring more fans.
"I hope that people are interested in watching us on TV or coming over to I think one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA and certainly a beautiful arena," Joerger said after running his first practice as head coach. "Anytime we can get people over there, we love that."
The Grizzlies have been tracking ticket sales in Middle Tennessee, and Levien said those are up along with some sponsorships. The interest is growing in Arkansas as well. The Grizzlies had a few games televised in Little Rock last season, and Levien said they will have a lot more televised in that market this season.
"It is just demand, and the networks are seeing that and they want to get that for their fans and their viewers," Levien said.
The Grizzlies also open the preseason Oct. 7 playing the Chicago Bulls in St. Louis, a town that was their second stop on last month's fan caravan. St. Louis has an NFL team, the Cardinals and the NHL's Blues but no NBA team.
This is the first time the Grizzlies have spent this much time in Nashville. They went to Birmingham, Ala., in 2009 for training camp, and the Grizzlies have spent some training camp in Spain in 2003 and 2007 as part of the NBA's tours in Europe.
Guard Mike Conley likes seeing the Grizzlies move around a bit.
"It's good to see us travel, good to see another side of the state, another fan base outside the city of Memphis," Conley said.