MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) – News of the sale of the Memphis Grizzlies by current majority owner Michael Heisley to California billionaire Robert Pera caught the Mid-South by surprise. And while current contracts and common sense would indicate the Grizzlies will remain in Memphis, the tendency for fans is to think the worst.
Nobody wants to believe the Grizzlies will leave, but Memphis fans have been disappointed before. As one Shelby County official told abc24.com, whether a business owner looks at the potential benefits of moving, as outweighing any penalties for doing so, remains to be seen.
“We really want him to stay and want him to be successful,” said Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer.
Shafer loves basketball, but when the Grizzlies first relocated from Vancouver, she was skeptical.
“It had nothing to do with the Grizzlies; or not the Grizzlies,” Shafer said, “It had to do with public financing of an arena.”
Even though the current lease and penalties would seem to dictate the team stays in Memphis, if it did leave the effects would be devastating.
“I don’t know how many more buildings, how many more arenas Bass Pro’s willing to buy,” laughed Shafer, “It really would put us in a bind.”
Attendance figures from this season put the Grizzlies 20th in the NBA at just over 15,700 fans per game. A two year old study put the total economic impact of the team at $223 million, generating $5.3 million in local tax revenue.
So if the Grizzlies were to move, Shafer said, “It would be difficult for taxpayers, it would be.”
On Monday, June 11, news of the sale slowly reached disgruntled fans.
“I’m shocked,” said Grizzlies fan Perry Chehey, “and disappointed.”
It seems those recent playoff runs by Memphis have created a lot of loyalty.
“The city’s poured a lot into this; a lot of money into this,” said Chehey, “and the city and everybody else have fallen in love with the Grizzlies.”
So, Grizz fans will cross their fingers and hope.
“As long as they stay here, I’m happy,” said Chehey, “because I don’t ever want them to leave. For them to leave would hurt us tremendously.”
Neither city nor county governments have anything to do with the sale of the Grizzlies, they only have responsibility for the building in which they play. When asked whether current financial terms for that building would remain in place for a new owner, abc24.com was told, 'Good question.'
The answer is yet to follow.