SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/This Weeks Issue

Bobcats launch ‘Free SL’ deal for Hornets faithful

The Charlotte Bobcats are turning to an old marketing strategy to attract new business by offering former Hornets season-ticket holders a free personal seat license program.

The NBA expansion team last week rolled out what it's calling the Free SL program, offering former Hornets season-ticket holders full ownership of their seats at Charlotte's planned new arena at no cost should they purchase Bobcats season tickets for five consecutive years, beginning with the team's 2004-05 inaugural season.

The Bobcats' 2004-05 season will be played in the existing Charlotte Coliseum, which was home to the Hornets before the franchise moved to New Orleans in 2002. The Bobcats will move into their new arena for their second season.

The seat-license strategy is similar to what Hornets owner George Shinn called a charter seat program that he offered to early season-ticket buyers in 1988, when the NBA first expanded to Charlotte.

"The more we looked at it, the more we felt it would work for us," said Tom Ward, executive vice president of business operations for the Bobcats. "We are evolving as a franchise, and our goal is to instill long-term loyalty to our fans."

The offer initially is available only to former Hornets season-ticket holders, who also get priority in making seat selections at the new arena when they agree to buy season tickets for the inaugural season at Charlotte Coliseum. The team expects to extend the Free SL program to new season-ticket buyers when it begins selling to the general public in November.

"We are going to have some tough years and don't want our season-ticket holders to bail on us, so this is what is at the end of the rainbow for our fans," Ward said.

Having a seat license would give a fan rights to that specific seat for future seasons. The Bobcats are not planning now to require a seat-license purchase with each annual season-ticket buy.

The Bobcats decided to offer the Free SL program after beginning a marketing campaign last month aimed at the 6,000 former Hornets season-ticket holders.

"The program was something that we had in the back of our minds, and we were inundated with people asking about what happened to the charter program," Ward said. "It was something fans came to expect."

The Bobcats are counting on the former Hornets' season-ticket base to buy into the expansion franchise as it begins to sell full-season-ticket plans that cost between $731 and $4,300.

The Bobcats began selling season tickets in early August. Current sales totals were not available.

The team so far has sold 25 of the new arena's 60 suites and has set a goal to sell 30 by the end of this month. The team expects to begin selling sponsorships later this month, with suite sales to be included in the sponsorship packages.

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