Friday, August 8, 2008

Can Memphis Survive a 3 Year Plan?

There will always be a part, and always a very large part of every community, that have no care but for themselves, and whose care for themselves reaches little further than impatience of immediate pain, and eagerness for the nearest good.
- Samuel Johnson

That's a depressing perspective on society.

At first I thought I disagreed with this position but as I thought it over I came to realize the truth in the statement. The large majority in a community choose to sit on the sidelines and demand that others do their best rather than joining in the battle themselves. They want instant gratification and have zero tolerance for any sacrifice.

In many ways that describes the problem with the Grizzlies in Memphis. So many fans demand immediate gratification to earn their loyalty but that loyalty will only exist as long as the team continues to gratify. They have no patience for the inevitable pain that comes with rebuilding. These members in the community want instant moves, instant wins and instant gains. Anything less and they turn their backs on the team.

This is very different from other parts of the world. Take football (soccer) fans in England. Most people in Memphis have heard of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. More than a few hear the word Arsenal and don't immediately think of their gun rack. These are traditional powerhouses of the English Premiership. They have a world-wide support. However the league would fail if those were the only teams that fans supported. The Premiership has Wigham, West Ham and Fulham also. These teams have loyal fans that pull for their teams even when the odds are hopelessly against them ever competing for the championship.

Of course international sports have a much different reason for being supported locally. Failure to succeed at the basest level could have your team relegated out of the top league. Could you imagine that happening in the USA? Sorry Miami. You had the worst record in the league last year. Next year you are in the NBDL and the Iowa NBDL team is taking your place in the NBA! The Kansas City Royals would be out of the major leagues and playing AAA ball next summer.

So three year plans to return to competitiveness don't work too well in English Football. With relegation comes far less revenue and the good/expensive players are shipped out immediately to other Premiership teams and replaced with younger, cheaper alternatives. Teams can return in a year but they inevitably spend their anticipated largess from the Premiership promotion on more experienced players in an attempt to avoid relegation again.

This doesn't happen in the NBA. Teams are not relegated to lesser leagues for on-court failure. Teams can attempt to rebuild for longer term success. That is what the Grizzlies say they are attempting to do this year. With a team full of players barely out of college (4 players aren't even old enough to drink yet) the Grizzlies are attempting to build a team that can be successful for a long time. Combining a large number of draft picks with expiring contract veterans allows the Grizzlies to put together a core of the team that will mature together. The Grizzlies want a dynasty type of development not a Miami Heat/Boston Celtics two year run.

Will this community support the team enough to see the fruits of these efforts? Memphis is a small market and if the majority of people have no care but for themselves and their immediate gratification then what hope is there for the team to survive. Memphis doesn't have a large population to absorb the fallout of the disinterested majority. Is the so called three year plan a smart one in the River City?

There are numerous factors that contribute to attendance numbers but there are two prime factors. First is the success of the team. The more successful, in general, the better the attendance. The second impact is the longevity of the franchise. The more entrenched the franchise is in the community the better the attendance. Fans grow up going to games with their parent and continue to go as adults with their children. Outside of these two factors their is star power, competition from other events and more but the main two factors contribute the most to attendance.

Unfortunately Memphis has neither factor in their favor currently. They are not winning, don't have a great expectation of winning soon and have not been in the community long enough to have a large core of fans. The one factor that binds the team to Memphis right now is a contract. That is never a good sign for franchise stability.

In the NBA alone there have been three franchises relocated in the last 9 years and another that will move shortly (New Jersey to Brooklyn). That means over the last decade a team has moved every 3 years or so. Coincidentally Memphis' owner has put the team on a 3 year plan for success.

Teams move for financial considerations. The only way to minimize the risk of a small market losing its team these days is to make it financially unprofitable to do so. That means fans have to come to games to make the franchise more profitable. The theory that the fans are owed a winning product simply doesn't mean what it used to. If people have learned anything from the recent moves it is that owners of NBA teams will follow the money to wherever they can find it. Owners don't want to move franchises but they also don't want to lose money.

The good news is that the contract with the city is iron tight right now and lasts for more than three years. Hopefully the franchise will become successful over the next three years so that fans will want to come to games to see the team play. It is highly unlikely that anyone would move the team while the franchise has such a heavy penalty hanging over its head. However as the contract becomes less punitive the likelihood would rise if attendance isn't improved.

Fans follow winners but franchises don't always win. The Grizzlies need to engage the indifferent majority before it is too late. Winning is the simplest measure to do that. Playing exciting basketball is another. Memphis needs to do both soon.

BallHype: hype it up!


Anonymous said...

I wish Heisley & Chris never coined the phrase "Three-year plan."

Because what's grown out of it is the assumption that this team will be bad for at least three years. Indeed this could happen, but we are still a full three months away from tipoff of the first of those three years, so who knows what could happen?

Somebody in the west is going to fall off. I'm thinking Dallas, PHX, Golden State and the Clippers. Between that, hopefully good health on Beale St. and improved defense and team chemistry, I'm looking for a significant improvement -- at least 10 games.

I dunno, man. I guess I'm a fan. I'm not ready to buy the idea that we're going to suck this season -- certainly not before the guys even show up for camp.


Chip Crain said...

Excellent point and with the news out today that Josh Smith has been sent an offer sheet it may be that Heisley and Wallace see a rare opportunity to steal a future star.

I would imagine everyone in Memphis would pay good money to watch Conley, Lowry, Mayo, Gay and Smith 45 times a season!

Throw in Arthur, Gasol, Milicic, Walker, Jaric, Crittenton and Warrick and things are really looking up in Memphis.

Anonymous said...

Good article

I think the biggest question in this situation is not the patience of fans but the patience of ownership ... will Heisley want to move the team again if things don't pick up in the near future before he's given the team a chance to win and to entrench themselves in the community.

Until Heisley has done that, it's not on the fans, it's on him. There's no reasonable expectation for masses of fans to be emotionally attached to a relatively new team in the area that is also doing very poorly on the court. That has to develop over time ... will it get the time?

You'd have to think that the salary cuts have helped create more time for Heisley. Although his financial losses are amazingly high already which must wear on his patience.

Longevity is very underrated in the NBA as seen by the NBA with the Sonics leaving Seattle. The league is too young to value what league's like the Premiership treasure and protect at all costs, the NBA is still learning how to behave in this regard.

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