MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - With news of the sale of the Memphis Grizzlies, skeptical fans are worried the team will pick up and move. Is it just fear or could it be reality?
It's no surprise fans are skeptical. Almost since the day the team moved here, people have questioned how long the Grizzlies would stay. The simple answer: the team's current lease is good through 2021. But as you well know, things aren't always so simple.
Former Memphis city attorney Robert Spence's signature is on almost all the contracts with the Grizzlies. Spence negotiated the deal to get the Grizzlies here.
"It's probably the most complicated transaction I've ever been involved in," he said, "We drafted this contract to make sure they remained in our city and if they chose to leave, they would have to pay off the bonds so the citizens wouldn't be stuck paying for an arena with no team."
Truth is a new owner could move the team but it would cost around $100 million to break the contract. For whoever owns the team to leave, season ticket averages must fall below 14,900; last year it averaged just fewer than 16,000.
Spence said, "It gives the team a back door out, but as long as the community supports the team that will never be a concern."
If attendance did get low enough, leaving Memphis still isn't that easy. The city and county have the right to purchase tickets to meet the seating minimums.
Then there is what's called 'first Right of Refusal.' If a potential new owner wanted to buy and move the team, the city and county have the first right to purchase the Grizzlies.
If that didn't happen, the city and county could take the Grizzlies to court to prevent them from leaving.
Truth is at the time the deal was signed it was considered one of the most lucrative in the NBA. The team gets all the revenue from the building and major capitol repairs to the FedExForum are paid by taxpayers.
"It's a good deal, but I can tell you it's one they didn't want to sign off on; this is a pretty tough deal for an NBA team," said Spence. "In this deal the Grizzlies get all the revenue but they have to pay to operate it and that was a huge win for the city and county in these negotiations."
Truth is Grizzlies fans worry where there is a will, there's a way. If a new owner wants to leave the Bluff City bad enough it could be expensive, but it could happen.