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THE NBA IN CANADA, PART III: THE GRIZZLIES KEEP DRIVIN'
Published December 14, 1994
The Grizzlies enter the final stretch of their season-ticket drive to bring basketball to Vancouver. Since awarded a franchise by the NBA on April 27, owner Arthur Griffiths has led a furious charge to meet the league's requirements. Unlike the Raptors, who began taking season-ticket orders in October, the Grizzlies kicked off their campaign on April 28 with a season- ticket hotline. Two days later, 6,000 fans had called and committed a $100 deposit toward a season-ticket. Sales have slowed, but the Grizzlies organizational efforts have met with greater success than the Raptors. Over the past week, THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY spoke with members of the Vancouver media and Tod Leiweke, who is charge of the development of business and marketing opportunities for the Grizzlies. THE NUMBER: The team is around 3,000 sales short of the NBA mandated-minimum of 12,500, but reports this morning indicate that deals could push both teams over the top this week. Leiweke, Exec VP of Northwest Entertainment Group, parent company of the Grizzlies and the Canucks, said the franchise "has made progress," but refused to speculate on numbers. The Grizzlies announce their total on Tuesday. THE MARKET: Leiweke, who came over from the Warriors in early November: "The community has really wanted to see this happen. It has largely been a community initiative." Leiweke mentioned "The Ambassadors," a group of 49 business leaders throughout the city who have organized the business community. He also praised business leaders who stepped forward and purchased suites and club seats for the Canucks, and then consented when asked by the Grizzlies to increase their commitment on their suites. Although Vancouver is a hockey town, the SUN's MacDonald said, "The town is talking about the Grizzlies." Still, Tsumura calls the NBA a "brand new game in town" and for Vancouver fans "it is almost like buying into something on faith." ORGANIZATION: "The Grizzlies always knew they had a selling job and they got their organization in place and went about their business," according to MacDonald. Griffiths, who is looking for an investment partner for the team, received high marks from the media for his organizational skills. MacDonald: "They come across as a very slick, well organized, franchise." Tsumura agrees that the organization is well run, giving kudos for bringing in Magic Johnson for an appearance and an ownership guarantee for a full refund if the customer is not satisfied with the performance of the team. Likewise, GM Stu Jackson has kept a high profile, making appearances and being a front-man for the team in advertising. Tsumura: "Jackson has really done the job and gotten out there." CORPORATE HELP: The team has been active in the corporate community. Spectra Foods Restaurant Group signed a deal that included the purchase of 300 season-tickets. Leiweke said it has been untraditional corporate help, those "who might not buy a media package or a sign in the arena." Although Spectra is not engaging in cross-promotions, Leiweke did say the deal "sparked the imagination of other companies." There are reports this week that both Shopper's Drug Mart and Overwaitea grocery stores are close to making a significant corporate ticket purchase. The team is currently in discussing a media deal, but nothing is signed. OVERALL: Tsumura compares Vancouver with NBA expansion franchises, such as the Magic. MacDonald: "Orlando had a full year longer to sell 10,000 tickets and they went right to the end. If you gauge it that way, for Vancouver being a non- basketball town, the 9,000 they have sold is quite a good number." Lieweke on the NBA's deadline: "It is not fair for me to sit here and pass judgement. We only had one choice and that was to rise to the challenge. ... Certainly, if you look at the last expansion with 10,000 tickets and here you come into a market where there has not been a ton of NBA exposure in the market place, it is really quite amazing that they would rise to this challenge" (THE DAILY).