SBJ/Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2014/Franchises

With new name, Bobcats raise bar

When the Charlotte Bobcats change their name next season to the Charlotte Hornets, the team not only will sport a new moniker, but it also will have some new business benchmarks.

Team officials are budgeting that the rebranding will push sales of full-season-equivalent tickets to more than 10,000, up from 8,000 this season, and that the club will hit a 90 percent renewal rate among current season-ticket holders for the 2014-15 season.

According to team executives, the Bobcats have never had 10,000 FSEs, dating back to when Bob Johnson bought the expansion franchise in 2004 after the original Hornets relocated to New Orleans in 2002.

Driving the Bobcats’ ticket sales is the team’s well-orchestrated relaunch of
 
Charlotte merchandise is hot, but team officials expect ticket sales to rise as well.
Photos by: COURTESY OF CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
the Hornets name. It’s an identity that dates to the NBA’s expansion to Charlotte in 1988.

After rolling out the logo and colors for the new-look team on Dec. 21, the Bobcats on Jan. 18 began selling merchandise with that new Hornets look while simultaneously kicking off season-ticket renewal efforts for next season. The team saw record one-day merchandise sales on that Jan. 18 launch date.

As for the anticipated ticket-sales increase, that would continue a trend line that began for this season. Charlotte formally announced plans to change its name in May, a decision that drew high praise locally after the Hornets name became available when New Orleans opted to become the Pelicans.

That early buzz, and expectations for an improved team on the court this season, helped Charlotte sell more than 2,000 new full-season tickets for 2013-14 and post an 89 percent season-ticket renewal rate for this year, the club’s final season as the Bobcats.

Leaguewide, having 10,000 FSEs is seen as a key sales benchmark. About one-third of the NBA’s 30 teams reached that threshold this season.

When current Bobcats owner Michael Jordan bought the franchise in 2010, the team had about 6,000 FSEs.

“With a 90 percent renewal rate and layering on the 2,000 new full sales, [getting to 10,000 FSEs] is the goal, and we will get there this year,” said Bobcats President and COO Fred Whitfield. “From the beginning, [we knew the rebranding] would be a catalyst for the business, and it has surpassed our high expectations.”

The merchandise gains are expected to continue as well, especially once the team unveils its new uniform this summer. The Jan. 18 launch of merchandise was limited mostly to hats, T-shirts and novelty items.

Team executives declined to disclose specific per-cap figures for the Jan. 18 game that served as the platform for the new merchandise sales, but they did say the sales helped the team set an all-time game total revenue record that night versus Miami.

“We were up 90 percent in-store from our previous all-time high,” said Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Bobcats. “And we really didn’t have kids products and jerseys yet. Adidas created as many hats as they could, and we bought every hat that they had.”

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