Shelby County is giving Grizzlies ownership millions to stay in town.
The National Basketball Association’s Memphis Grizzlies franchise is staying in the Tennessee city through 2029 under a new lease agreement with Shelby County. That’s good news for Grizzlies’ customers but it might not be the best news for Shelby County residents as the county will be sending a check to Grizzlies ownership annually as a thanks for staying in town. Shelby County’s payment for 2023 will be nearly $2 million. The payment increases to nearly five million dollars annually and by the end of the lease agreement the Grizzlies ownership will get $6.3 million annually. Grizzlies ownership could get as much as $44.8 million.
Michael Heisley moved his Vancouver Grizzlies franchise to Memphis in 2001. Memphis Grizzlies ownership had a clause in the arena contract that would have allowed owner Robert Pera to move the team without a penalty. The team had some negative attendance benchmarks that needed to be realized for the team to leave town. A shortfall season occurs under three scenarios. The first is if the Grizzlies business failed to sell an average of 14,900 tickets per home game. The second would be the failure to sell all of the 64 largest suites. And the third would be if the number of club season tickets sold is less than 2,500. Municipalities paying to keep towns in town is nothing new. In New Orleans, Louisiana paid Tom Benson to keep his National Football League Saints in town with hundreds of millions of dollars going into Benson’s pocket. The NBA’s Indiana Pacers ownership is getting direct payments from Indiana taxpayers since 2014 with more than $10 million annually going to the team to make sure the team doesn’t move. Memphis politicians know Seattle and Las Vegas political and business leaders want an NBA team and are willing to pay whatever is necessary to keep big league status.
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