COMMENTARY | The Memphis Grizzlies announced Friday that the team will hold its 2013 training camp in Nashville, Tennessee.
The move comes as the Grizzlies hope to expand their fan base outside of the Memphis metropolitan area.
Despite three consecutive appearances in the NBA playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies' attendance numbers have been somewhat lackluster over recent history. During the 2012/2013 regular season, the Grizzlies ranked 19th in the NBA in terms of average attendance -- behind non-playoff teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, and Utah Jazz. Surprisingly, the attendance numbers for the Grizzlies in 2013 were the highest in nearly a decade. This begs the question as to why the team's fan base has grown at such a sluggish pace despite recent success (including an appearance in the 2013 NBA Western Conference finals).
Compared to many other cities with an NBA franchise, Memphis has a relatively low population and a high poverty rate, which could potentially contribute to low attendance. Although unlike many franchises, the Grizzlies find themselves in a unique position, geographically isolated from other teams with several large non-NBA cities within close proximity. If the Grizzlies were able to attract even a nominal number of out-of-town commuters to regular-season games, attendance could increase closer to FedEx Forum's 18,119 maximum capacity. This is not the first time Memphis has tried expanding its fan base to nearby cities. In 2009, the Grizzlies held training camp in Birmingham, Alabama.
In addition to holding their training camp on the road, the Memphis Grizzlies will open their 2013 preseason against the Chicago Bulls in the neutral city of St. Louis, Missouri.
With both training camp and a preseason game in nearby cities, the Grizzlies have an opportunity to increase attendance numbers at a rate that more accurately reflects the team's performance on the court. With a team that is certainly in contention for an NBA championship, an arena full of fans is not much to ask.
Nicholas Naveiras is a lifelong Memphian, college student, and diehard Memphis Grizzlies follower. He has followed the franchise's on- and off-court progress since 2001.
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