When NBA fans think of teams struggling entering the lockout, the Hornets might be at the top of the list. They still do not have an owner — the NBA has been running the franchise — while their stadium is one of the oldest in the league in a struggling basketball market. Not helping matters is the uncertainty surrounding Chris Paul’s future and, of course, the lockout.
Whenever contraction or moving teams is discussed, it seems New Orleans is at the front of the line.
In truth, that might just be a perception problem. Because even with a lockout, the Hornets seem to be doing quite well.
John Reid of The Times-Picayune reported Wednesday that Chevron had joined the Hornets’ Crescent City Champions, becoming the fifth business in the New Orleans area to sign up for the team’s high-level sponsorship program. Recently Entergy, New Orleans’ lone Fortune 500 company, joined the fold along with Cox Communications, 7-Up and Ochsner Health System.
These deals have put the Hornets well ahead financially of where they were last year. Hornets president Hugh Weber said the team is $4 million ahead of where it was last year at this time and Reid notes this is the most sponsors the team has had in their elite advertisers group since 2007.
But the extent of the Hornets’ good fortunes doesn’t end there.
New Orleans has held their ticket sales steady despite the work stoppage with nearly 9,000 season tickets sold. The Hornets are hoping to have 10,000 sold by the end of September. Even if they do not reach that goal, selling that many tickets before the work stoppage has resolved is still quite impressive. Especially for a team perceived to be doing so poorly.
The Hornets should find themselves a buyer shortly after the lockout ends. David Stern said on Bill Simmons’ podcast that there are four or five potential local buyers who are interested and gathering themselves to purchase the team.
That certainly does not sound like a team on the ropes facing an uncertain future.
New Orleans has had some success and is trying to show it can remain a viable NBA market in the post-lockout NBA. There have been many times since moving from Charlotte that the Hornets have struggled with attendance — they were 26th in attendance last year according to Basketball-Reference — and rumors will likely continue to swirl around them whenever relocation or contraction comes up.
Nevertheless, this is a positive sign that the NBA can still be successful in New Orleans and that there is some excitement for the team. Hopefully it continues to grow.
Of course it can’t — and the Hornets likely cannot realize the full potential of their marketing plan — until the lockout ends.
Photo via DayLife.com.