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Randy Stephens, Director of Broadcast for the Memphis Grizzlies is a busy guy. “We are still talking to a lot of people,” he says in regards to the team’s efforts to secure local television, cable, and radio rights for Grizzlies broadcast. With a schedule starting in a few months, Stephens certainly has a deadline. However, he says that “nothing is final. But it is something we will have to bring to a head in the next couple of weeks in all three areas.”

Contenders for the media crown are coming from both obvious and not so obvious places. “On the over the air side, we’ve had serious discussions with the Clear Channel, WMC and their partnership with PAX,” Stephens says. Those are the obvious choices since the NBA’s official network is NBC, WMC’s affiliate.

The other two network affiliates, according to Stephens, are probably out of the running. “It’s very difficult for them to be involved because of their network commitments. So even if they wanted to put Grizzlies games on, they can’t free up enough space to do it.”

But even one cleared schedule might not be enough. so the Grizzlies are looking at stations that share ownerships. “WPTY and WLMT along with WMC and Pax have a common ownership,” Stephens says. “So they have two stations to work with. That gives them a little more flexibility in their scheduling. In either one of those scenarios, you will see games on both stations in the partnership.”

Radio Outlook Similar

Things are any less complicated with the radio deal. “It’s pretty obvious that the all-sports stations are going to be interested,” says Stephens, though there is still more choice here than he first expected. “For a market this size to have two all-sport stations [AM 560 and AM 790] is quite unique. We’ll see how it plays out. It’s a good thing for us. It’s a built-in interest.”

There has also been surprising interest from the FM station. “That would be a very unique,” Stephens says. “There are currently no NBA teams that have an FM station as their flagship broadcaster. But when you consider on the AM side [in Memphis], there is no 50 thousand watt mega-powerhouse that can boom the signal out in this market.”

There has also been surprising interest from FM stations. “That would be a very unique,” Stephens says. “There are currently no NBA teams that have an FM station as their flagship broadcaster. But when you consider on the AM side [in Memphis], there is no 50 thousand watt mega-powerhouse that can boom the signal out in this market.”

Small Market Team

Media revenues generated in Memphis will be the smallest in the league, given the city’s status as smallest media market. However, Stephens feels that the team can get similar numbers in terms of revenues.

“In Vancouver was actually quite similar to here. It was a larger market but you have to keep in mind that all the broadcast revenues we would take in were in Canadian dollars. That makes a huge difference right off the bat. The other issue is that Vancouver was very much a hockey town. The [NHL] Canucks did very well with their broadcast revenues. The Grizzlies did not so well.

"Historically, when the teams were under common ownership, there was a lot of packaging and the Grizzlies benefited from that. When Michael Heisley bought the team and we went to it on our own, we lost those built-in advantages and then were in a competition situation with the Canucks and it was much harder to generate broadcast revenues.”

Whichever stations get the deals, there sure will be a lot of basketball to broadcast. For starters, the team will make efforts to show all 41 scheduled away games. Stephens would not guarantee the entire schedule, though “68-72” games shown in the home market is the league average. Also, Stephens thinks the idea of a station blackout is a bad one. “That’s not something that we’re interested in doing,” Stephens says. “We believe the ability for fans to see our product, to experience our product is the best advertisement we can get. Old school theory was that if you televised your game you would hurt your attendance. I’m not sure that is true.”

The Grizzlies will employ two broadcast teams, one for the television and one for the radio. They’ve already found half their team for the radio. “The only announcer we currently have under contract is Don Poier,” Stephens says. “He’s been the radio voice of the Grizzlies since day one and he has agreed to re-locate to Memphis. He’s obviously a wonderful tool for us. If anyone knows the history of the Grizzlies, he’s seen almost every game. We’ll be looking for a partner for him on the radio side.”

That partner and the local television team could be made of both national and local broadcasters. “We’ve had a lot of national names people would recognize,” Stephens says. “We’ve also had a lot of folks from the Memphis marketplace. We’re still trying to determine what is best: someone with a built-in profile in the Memphis marketplace or since this is a new product, we want to establish someone new. We’re still working through that.”

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