GR Drive sets its sights on business attraction


The first Grand Rapids Drive season isn’t over yet, but the front office already is looking at ways to stay relevant during the summer.

The NBA Development League, or D-League, team will host its first Drive Business Association meeting before the team takes on Sioux Falls April 1 at The DeltaPlex Arena.

Drive President Steve Jbara said the goal of the first networking event will be to encourage the team’s 30-plus investors to utilize their connections. He hopes each investor will bring four or five people to the event. The DBA will later be open to professional and chamber groups.

“We started to see the list of investors, and it’s a lot of really cool, well-connected people in the community,” Jbara said. “We’ll use this to help bring people together and do a ‘business of basketball’ networking event.”

Jbara said the idea comes from one way the Detroit Pistons, the team’s parent club, uses to generate revenue. The Pistons offer key ticketholders special perks in hopes they’ll bring people to the games who eventually will buy ticket plans, as well. Jbara said the Pistons’ events regularly host more than 150 people.

Before worrying about generating revenue, Jbara wants to make sure the networking events are engaging, explaining he’s been relegated to wallflower at some less-than-exciting events.

The first event with investors is to ensure future outings will attract some solid business people.

“We want to make sure there are 40 good business people there,” Jbara said. “If there’s a young professional looking for a job or a chamber member looking to get connected, we want them to be assured there’s some ‘oomph’ there and it’s not just me talking.”

The networking event will last an hour and feature an appearance by Otis Smith, the team’s head coach and former Orlando Magic general manager.

Tickets for the event and admission to the game are $20 for regular seating or $50 for courtside tickets.

Jbara hopes the seeds planted during the April 1 gathering will lead to similar functions throughout the summer. Several businesses already are interested in hosting events during the summer, including a luxury car dealer that plans to combine networking with vehicle test drives.

Jbara said it’s important to continue exposing the Drive to new people who might have missed the first season.

“The lakeshore is a big opportunity that we’ve done a poor job of activating,” he said. “There are some other key demographics we’re going to target with our marketing this summer.”

Staying relevant during the summer will be a challenge, especially with players at the D-League level on one-year contracts, he said. Smith will be back to coach the team next year.

The D-League also will see several adjustments that could help bump up the level of play in the coming seasons, as well as increase exposure. Next year, the NBA could allow two-way contacts, similar to the NHL, allowing for players to easily be sent back and forth to the farm teams. NCAA eligibility rules might change, as well, which would affect who can play in the D-League and when.

ESPN recently announced its networks would broadcast the entirety of the D-League playoffs. Should the Drive make the playoffs, it would mean consistent branding for the city on national television. As of last week, however, the team was four games back of the leader in the league’s Central Division.

Jbara said as a new team, there’s still a lot of groundwork to be done and he hopes the DBA will help with that.

“We have an interesting story,” he said. “We’re just trying to tell it as many ways as possible.”

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