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.
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