MikeCheck: 'Checking In' during NBA hiatus with Grizzlies president Jason Wexler
For now, the games have ceased as league players, team officials and fans continue to cope with the global Coronavirus health crisis that’s forced the NBA’s hiatus.
But for the Grizzlies and the league’s 29 other teams, the business and spirit of the game forge ahead as franchises try to make an impact in their communities during these challenging times. When the season was suspended March 12, Memphis was positioned to make the playoffs for the first time in three years as one of the NBA’s youngest and most rapidly improving teams.
When the season resumes, count on the Grizzlies to be ready.
Meanwhile, the organization continues to prioritize the health, safety and security of the franchise and the region it calls home. Grind City Media will use this space each week to ‘Check In’ with the latest on the Grizzlies and the community as they get through the hiatus together.
This week’s guest for GCM’s Question & Answer session is Grizzlies president Jason Wexler.
GCM: What are some specific ways the Grizzlies are addressing questions and concerns among MVP Season-Ticket Members and ticketed fans amid the NBA’s decision to indefinitely postpone the season?
Wexler: First, we need to thank our fans for being patient. There’s a lot that’s up in the air with the league on hiatus, and it’s going to take time for it all to resolve itself. So the fact that everyone has been patient so far has been terrific. We’re trying to maintain effective communication with our fans, our account executives are talking to season-ticket holders and we’re trying to communicate when we can. And some of it depends on having something to communicate.
Two things are happening that will go out shortly. One is, usually for season-ticket renewals, there’s a deadline. And if you hadn’t renewed by the deadline, then you might lose your seats. Well, we’re not going to have a deadline at this time. We’re going to postpone that indefinitely. We’re going to hold people’s seats for them for the time being.
The other thing is, for people on a payment plan for their renewals for next year that have already renewed, if you want to defer your April payment, you can defer that April payment. It’s going to be divided up over the remainder of your season-ticket payments. We’re trying to do things like that along the way to help folks. Bigger picture, we’re in a little bit of a wait-and-see mode as to what will happen with the rest of this season and next season before we can communicate in great detail.
GCM: What impact does the postponement of games have on Grizzlies full-time and part-time employees and event personnel? What are the Grizzlies doing to assist staff affected during this time?
Wexler: It’s a great question. In terms of Grizzlies game-night employees, (franchise owner) Robert Pera, from the outset, said we’ve got to take care of folks. So everybody who is a Grizzlies game-night employee for the final eight home games of the regular season will be paid as per their normal schedule they were working. And that includes the five home games for the Memphis Hustle. So we’re taking care of those folks for the normal line.
For the rest of the Grizzlies staff, we’ve transitioned to work from home. We started that process back on March 12 and have been accelerating it through the (City of Memphis) mayor’s request about people working from home. So we’re staying engaged. And like many other folks, we’re figuring out how to transition to being a work-from-home company. We do have a bare-minimum staff in place at the arena to keep FedExForum a living, functioning, breathing building. But beyond that, we’re adapting like so many other people are trying to adapt right now.
GCM: The stoppage of an NBA season for global health concerns is an unprecedented ordeal. What guidelines has the NBA put in place for players to ensure they, first, take precautions with their health, and, secondly, remain in condition for the potential resumption of the season?
Wexler: The NBA has been really great about being specific and thorough in guidelines and expectations for players. I think we’re up to memo number 22 with respect to the hiatus so far (laughs). That’s needed. That’s not a knock. There’s so much that needs to be taken care of. We’ve got great doctors and medical staff. They’ve been in communication regularly with all of us, the players and staff. Our guys are abiding by the guidelines. It’s been out there that players are not allowed to come to the team gyms right now. They’ve been responsible to work out from home. We’re in communication with them daily, and everybody is doing the best they can do under the circumstances.
GCM: As president of the Grizzlies, how often are you in contact with the NBA offices regarding next steps? How have your role and responsibilities evolved over the past few weeks?
Wexler: Like everybody else, it’s trying to figure out how to work from home. I was self-quarantining due to some travel the last 14 days, so getting through that process now to try to keep everything running. The communications with the League are ongoing and regular and continuous. It’s a little bit hard because you’re trying to find a balance. There’s not going to be an update every four hours as to what’s happening. They need a little time to figure some stuff out, too.
But they’ve got a whole process so that we’re communicating on the business side, we’re communicating with the finance team, we’re communicating with the legal team, we’re communicating with the basketball operations folks. Everybody is working to keep everything running and keep information flowing as best as we can in an environment that requires a little bit of patience. But all of us are anxious to figure out what comes next.
GCM: The NBA has expressed optimism that the season could resume when and if the health crisis subsides. Should that be the case, the Grizzlies are in position to possibly make the playoffs for the first time in three years with one of the youngest rosters in the league and a first-year coach in Taylor Jenkins. Ja Morant is widely considered the frontrunner for NBA Rookie of the Year. How encouraged have you been with the Grizzlies season to this point, and with the reaction to this team you’ve seen both locally from the Memphis fanbase and nationally?
Wexler: It’s been a really encouraging season. I think everybody feels positive about where things were and where things were heading. Watching some of the Grizz Rewind games (rebroadcasts on FOX Sports Southeast) from a few weeks ago, that feels like a lifetime ago (laughs). It’s kind of hard to put some of that in perspective. Everybody also doesn’t want to think of the development from this season as over yet, because it is a hiatus. There is more to do. And we’re a playoff team right now. So while pleased with everything that’s happened, we’re still trying to be forward-looking as well as analyzing what we’ve done. But also not looking backwards and putting a bow on anything yet.
GCM: What can fans in Memphis or elsewhere expect over the next 30 days while on hiatus? How is the business of basketball being affected? What are your plans over this time?
Wexler: The strangest thing is we are a business that is fundamentally dependent on a schedule, right? You have an annual schedule. You have your dates in the year you’re preparing for (such as) draft day, summer league, training camp, start of the season, your games all season long. Everything depends on a schedule. It’s schedule, schedule, schedule constantly. And we’re in a moment in time when there’s literally no schedule. That’s sort of the biggest issue to work around right now. You’re trying to keep your entire organization sharp and focused and connected with your fans, and connected with your players in an environment where you’re not sure when the timetables are going to change.
So we’re being diligent about staying connected, overcommunicating on a daily basis internally and communicating an appropriate amount externally. That’s the biggest thing right now; it’s everybody wants to figure out a way to have a culmination to the 2019-2020 season on the court, somehow some way. But when that will be and what that means for the 2020-21 season, until we know that for sure, we’re all kind of operating in a bit of a state of limbo, understandably.
GCM: How are the Grizzlies supporting the Memphis community in these unprecedented times?
Wexler: You’ll see something from us soon where our players and the rest of the organization have taken the initiative to work collaboratively to do some good in our community, with respect to everything that’s happening and dealing with the Coronavirus. So keep an eye out for an announcement coming in the near future.
GCM: Is there anything more you can share with the Memphis community during these times?
Wexler: First, again thanks to everybody for their patience with the NBA hiatus and not knowing where things are going. We just really appreciate everybody understanding that this is bigger than any individual and that social distancing and listening to our medical professionals and everybody who’s advising us on the best way to minimize the impact of this thing.
We’re all working together to try to do what’s best for our community. We’re trying to support in every way, shape and form that we reasonably can.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.