The Memphis Grizzlies switch to mobile tickets last season has given birth to a three-headed app that the team sees as the future of its fan engagement.
The current iteration of the official Grizzlies mobile app has three modes: one for the team, one for the FedExForum and its events, and a third for the team’s content production arm, Grind City Media. Grizzlies vice president of marketing Rolanda Gregory said Grind City Media is the one with the most growth potential.
“No one knows the team better than we do,” Gregory said. “When we look at the local outlets, it surpasses what they do. If anyone should be talking about the team and impacting that daily knowledge, we should have a shot at doing that, so we’re expanding coverage and bringing on talent.”
Grind City Media provides more than just Grizzlies content; it extends across Memphis-area sports with a daily sports podcast, a podcast series on sports betting, video features, and staff reports covering the team and other sports in the market. The Grind City Media site currently features a variety of “presented by” sponsors, like Mountain Dew and Direct Auto Insurance.
“There’s so much opportunity out there, it will eventually become something that takes on a life of its own as it grows and expands,” Gregory said.
Teams growing their internally-produced content is key to moving forward and driving revenue, Daniel Cohen, Octagon senior vice president of media rights consulting, said. The sports industry has transformed over the past several decades from ticket-sales driven in the 1980s and 90s to sponsorship-powered at the turn of the millennium, Cohen said.
But now, it’s imperative there’s a robust media offering beyond regional sports network deals, Cohen said.
“It’s an absolute necessity; almost an arms race as teams are essentially media companies,” Cohen said. “They’re staffing up tremendously when it comes to online media offerings, and the good ones are becoming content creators.”
The prime example Cohen gives is the Washington Wizards, whose ownership group Monumental Sports & Entertainment has heavily invested into a 24-7 OTT network called Monumental Network, acquiring local rights and “created a destination for DMV basketball fans.
While the Grizzlies content is primarily contained to the team’s regional footprint, Cohen said the league is working closely with organizations to build content opportunities internationally. He pointed to the Golden State Warriors deal with e-commerce retailer Rakuten and the Wizards internal content strategy with Japanese-born rookie Rui Hachimura.
Cohen said the on-the-court rights would likely continue to be owned by major rights holders, like Turner and ESPN, but NBA fans are increasingly more interested in what happens off it, which is where the opportunities lie.
“The teams can’t touch the live rights, but they can get creative with the cultural elements, the fashion, art, food,” he said. “The NBA popularity on the court is being overtaken by athlete-driven content.”
“It’s a wide-open space for brands that are endemic to the sport or team, or a new brand wanting to get in,” Cohen said.
Integrating Grind City Media into the team’s mobile app rather than building a new one made sense for Memphis, which wanted to limit costs and spur adoption by fans, Albert Hughes, Grizzlies senior manager of marketing technology, said.
The app allows fans to access their tickets, interact with fan services at FedExForum, play games, and consume the content produced by the organization. Hughes said the team would continue to add more functionality as fans continue to adopt the current uses.
Next year, the team plans on rolling out a mobile-only loyalty program based on engagement with different brands, attendance, and shopping behaviors. The Grizzlies are also working on mobile food and beverage ordering for in-seat delivery and more games.
Hughes said there’s so much opportunity for the app to provide untapped fan data to help drive business initiatives and marketing campaigns, including Grind City Media.
“The big initial use was moving to digital tickets,” Hughes said. “Knowing they had to come to that experience, we decided it’d be smart, adding new brands to give it another level of engagement.
“We want the app to be a 365-day-a-year experience,” he said.