The Battle Of Memphis

The battle for hearts, minds and bodies continues to rage in Memphis over a controversial non-compete clause the NBA’s Grizzlies team enforces in exchange for absorbing operating losses at the city’s new FedExForum.

Beaver Productions promoter Don Fox claims it’s driving artists out of the city. Grizzlies exec VP Mike Golub says the team never wanted the non-compete – nor the responsibility for operating the venue – in the first place.

The latest incident to bring tempers to a boil in Memphis is the booking of Mötley Crüe‘s “Carnival of Sin” tour at the 10,000-seat Desoto Civic Center, just across the state line in Southaven, Miss., but considered part of the Memphis market.

That venue is out of the non-compete’s reach, which prevents two city-owned buildings – The Pyramid and Mid-South Coliseum – from booking shows without the Grizzlies’ blessing.

FedExForum was working with Clear Channel Entertainment to land the Crüe gig, but was beaten to the punch by Fox’s Beaver Productions. According to Golub, Fox never contacted him about booking the show in the FedExForum.

“Beaver Productions never called us,” Golub told Pollstar. “Never said, ‘Can we play FedExForum?’ Or, ‘We don’t want to play FedExForum; can we play the Coliseum?’ They never called us.

“So here’s a guy (Fox) who says, ‘I support Memphis music; I support Memphis,’ but he never considered Memphis for that show and took it to DeSoto without even having one conversation with us,” Golub said.

“I’m putting the bands where I think they belong,” Fox told Pollstar. “I put it in DeSoto because it was the right size venue for Mötley Crüe. If I could have used the Coliseum, I would have used the Coliseum. But under this non-compete, I can’t do that.”

However, both Fox and Golub acknowledge that FedExForum is open to doing shows with Beaver Productions and they’ve already worked together on successful Memphis shows with Norah Jonesand the Alan Jackson / Martina McBride co-bill.

But, Fox pointed out, other acts – most notably Cher, Rascal Flatts (both promoted by Clear Channel), and Velvet Revolver (promoted by Beaver) went to the DeSoto Civic Center rather than run afoul of the Grizzlies in Memphis.

For some reason, it’s the perceived snub of Memphis by Mötley Crüe that’s got the local press, Grizzlies and Fox buzzing.

Why didn’t Fox approach the FedExForum for what’s expected to be one of the most successful tours of the spring?

“Because I think 7,000 to 8,000 tickets is right where this show belongs,” Fox explained. “I don’t think a 15,000- to 16,000-seater is right for 7,000 people. A lot of bands like to play where it’s packed. If it was going to sell 15,000 to 16,000 tickets, I’d say, ‘OK, fine.'”

The FedExForum’s capacity is normally closer to 13,000 for concerts. Mötley Crüe is averaging about 10,650 fans per show on the 17 dates reported to Pollstar by press time.

“I’ve got to concern myself with the Memphis market; I can’t compare acts with other cities,” Fox said. “There’s nothing I can do. I have no choice but to try to do the best that I can for the artist. I’m not in the basketball business; I’m in the music business.”

Suggestions that FedExForum management is out of its league when it comes to booking and promoting concerts rankle Golub.

“It’s a cheap shot by Don,” Golub said. “We have the most experienced people in the arena business and the concert business in the country. Our organization has been recognized as one of the best front offices in sports for two years in a row. We’re incredibly respected in the community; we’re the most philanthropic organization in sports.

“I would hold up our organization against any in the country and we’re doing really well. It’s been incredibly successful and I stand by our track record and our body of work.”

Still, the FedExForum’s concert history, particularly for a first-year venue, shows but four concerts since opening in September – two of which were promoted by Fox – and one gymnastics tour. The Pyramid hasn’t reported a concert since September 24th’s Incubus gig, and the Mid-South Coliseum has reported no concerts since FedExForum opened.

The dispute has proven a boon for the DeSoto Civic Center, which has reported four major concerts since September. From 2001-2003, there were a total of six events reported, mainly Christian music acts.

Golub countered that FedExForum has brought in a variety of successful non-basketball events – but not necessarily concerts.

Fox insisted the Grizzlies’ non-compete is the reason for that.

“The rules are, right now in Memphis, according to the Grizzlies, play our building or you don’t play Memphis,” Fox said. “No one likes to hear that. If you were management of an act and I called you up and said, ‘Hey, listen, your act can’t play Memphis right now because the Grizzlies have got a basketball game. You can’t use the other facilities; you’ve got to wait until the season’s done and then you can use it.’ You’d say, ‘Wait a second. I don’t have to play Memphis. I’m gonna skip it.'”

Golub insists the Grizzlies are wielding the non-compete reluctantly but that, overall, it is good for the citizens of Memphis.

“The city really wanted us, from the very start, not only to operate the arena, but also to assume all the operating risk of the arena,” Golub said. “We grudgingly accepted that. As part of that deal, they gave us the provision to dictate where shows go in Memphis. And that makes sense.

“To reiterate, we are all about making the music scene here just as vibrant as possible, and think we’ve, in a short seven months, taken some really good steps to bring shows to Memphis that haven’t been here before, like motocross and monster truck events,” Golub continued. “We did 13,000 for the Harlem Globetrotters, for example.

“Everybody loves the building, everybody’s happy, everybody in the industry is working with us except for, unfortunately, Beaver Productions. And again, we really believe it’s in the taxpayers’ best interest, the concert-goers’ best interest, the businesses’ best interest, to bring the shows here and Don doesn’t seem to agree with that.”