SBJ/September 5-11, 2011/Franchises

NBA-owned Hornets putting up big numbers in season-ticket and sponsorship sales

Despite a league-imposed lockout and the franchise searching for an owner, the New Orleans Hornets are improbably headed for one of their more successful offseason sales periods since moving to New Orleans in 2002.

The Hornets have sold nearly 9,000 full-season tickets, up from 6,300 last season, as the NBA-owned franchise looks to bolster its financial footing in New Orleans. With its sales success, the team is inching closer to reaching its goal of selling 10,000 season tickets.

NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The club is nearing its goal of selling 10,000 season tickets.
In addition to the rise of new season-ticket sales, the team this month has added two new Crescent City-level partners in Entergy and Chevron for a total of five such backers. Each top-level Crescent City partner is a $1 million annual deal and represents an upsell, as both were lower-level team sponsors prior to their new top-tier agreements.

Total sponsorship revenue to date is pacing $4 million ahead of last season, and the team’s renewal rate has surpassed 85 percent, according to Hornets President Hugh Weber.

The increase in business comes during the team’s “I’m In. Are You?” marketing campaign that began this spring to drive team revenue after the NBA last December bought the franchise from former owner George Shinn for more than $300 million. Also part of the campaign is a fan engagement effort called 100 Events in 100 Days.

The new business comes despite a first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Lakers this past spring and amid the now two-month-old lockout, during which the team is prevented from using current players in its marketing efforts. But there have been no staff cuts, and the team’s leadership has remained intact under Weber and Hornets Chairman Jac Sperling.

“Our messaging has been how the team fits in with our overall branding and the city,” Weber said. “People know their investment with the team is protected regardless of a work stoppage.”

The NBA is looking for a buyer for the team, leaving Hornets executives — along with local business and political leaders — working to show substantial local financial support of the franchise. The team wants to hit the 10,000 full-season-ticket sales benchmark by the end of October. Should they reach that level, the Hornets would come close to matching an all-time high of 10,400 full-season tickets sold during in 2008-09 season.

“We started off not knowing what the [season-ticket sales] pacing would look like,” Weber said. “I am not going to back off to say that [10,000 full-season-ticket sales is impossible] but the pacing will be a little later. In general, people feel it is a team on the rise.”

Last season, the Hornets struggled to attract fans, finishing with an average attendance of 14,709 per game, fifth-lowest in the 30-team NBA. The Hornets also are looking to negotiate a more favorable lease with the publicly owned New Orleans Arena, and the team is in the last year of its cable deal with Cox Sports Television.

“When the team was bought by the NBA, it raised a lot of questions,” Weber said. “We decided to control what we can to get in a position for a local owner to invest in a trajectory of success.”

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