SBJ/June 11-17, 2012/Franchises

Hornets ramping up appeals to Saints’ fans

The sale of the New Orleans Hornets to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson last week was set for league approval, and with the expected vote comes an effort by the Hornets to tap into the Saints’ far larger fan base to drive business.

Since agreeing to buy the Hornets from the NBA for $338 million on April 13, Benson has taken a quiet approach toward the basketball franchise while waiting for official league approval. But some cross-promotion between the teams began just after the Hornets won the NBA draft lottery on May 30.

Saints owner Tom Benson was set to be approved as the Hornets’ new owner.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
On June 3, the Hornets held a “select-a-seat” promotion exclusively for Saints season-ticket holders at the New Orleans Arena as the Hornets look for increased business among that group.

In addition, the Hornets set up ticket sales kiosks at the Saints’ recent organized team activities and are likely to do the same at the NFL team’s training camp in July. Other cross-marketing plans are under consideration and likely will be rolled out after the NBA approves the sale.

“The Saints have about 70,000 season-ticket holders and a waiting list, and there is a rich database,” said Bill Bailey, senior vice president of ticket sales and services for the Hornets.

The Hornets last year had a season-ticket base of more than 10,000 as the team rallied the community to buy tickets in order to build support for a local buyer. But the team’s average attendance of 15,110 a game ranked 24th in the 30-team NBA amid the ownership uncertainty during the lockout-shortened season.

Now, with Benson owning the team, the Hornets are banking on a stable future to help build fan interest and drive revenue. The Hornets have a season-ticket renewal rate of about 85 percent and have sold all but six of the 56 suites in the New Orleans Arena. Team officials would not disclose current ticket sales information.

“We are talking about basketball now as opposed to attendance thresholds and state deals,” Bailey said. “Now we are talking about a new owner, a No. 1 draft pick and filling the roster with cap space that we have.”

The NBA’s board of governors was expected to formally approve the team sale after final approval of legislation regarding capital improvements at the state-owned New Orleans Arena. The legislation had not been signed at press time.

“There is the ability of fans to invest emotionally in us, and with the feeling that the team is going to be here, the fans feel that they can engage with us,” Bailey said. “We are trying to catch lightning in a bottle.”

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