New Hornets Owner Tom Benson during his introductory press conference yesterday “reiterated his desire to change the Hornets' nickname to something more identifiable with New Orleans,” according to Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Benson said, "I'm going to ask all of you to help me with this, too. We want to change the name from Hornets … to something that means New Orleans and Louisiana. The 'Hornets' doesn't mean anything." However, NBA Commissioner David Stern dismissed the possibility of reacquiring Jazz, the "name of Utah's NBA franchise that had its birth in New Orleans in 1974.” Stern: “There are many things that are indigenous to the area. I'm sure there will be some wonderful nicknames." Benson, who also owns the Saints, confirmed that his two sports franchises “will be managed separately, with some slight personnel crossover in yet-to-be-determined areas” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/17). Meanwhile, Benson said that he “wants a new practice center” for the Hornets. Benson: "The first thing we've got do is get a practice facility that's going to be what we ought to have to get this team ready to win a championship." The AP’s Brett Martel noted the Hornets currently “practice in a suburban event center across the Mississippi River from where the Saints are headquartered.” The Hornets' lease “contains a pledge of $10 million that can be used either toward a new practice center or improvements to the New Orleans Arena, which already is slated for about $50 million in improvements during the next two years” (AP, 4/16).
LET'S BOOGIE: In New Orleans, John DeShazier noted a “front-running ownership group, headed by California businessman Raj Bhathal, had been identified and considered a virtual lock for months” in the bidding for the NBA team’s ownership, but Benson “swooped in and bought the Hornets when few, other than Stern … were watching.” In the process, Benson “fulfilled every requirement on Stern’s wish list for a New Orleans owner.” DeShazier: “Local? Check. Enthusiastic about keeping the franchise in New Orleans? Check. Receptive of the lease agreement that will bind the franchise to New Orleans through 2024? Check. Financial wherewithal, political influence, business connections and advisory group to raise the franchise to new heights? Check.” Stern called Benson “the most important owner in the history of the New Orleans Hornets.” It is a “heavy load that the Saints’ owner has positioned himself to carry, but Stern’s assessment very well could turn out to be true.” DeShazier wrote Stern has “carried the city’s NBA interests.” Stern said, “I would say that Tom and Gayle Benson are the ideal owners for the New Orleans Hornets. If we were looking for the perfect owner … we couldn’t have done better. We would have had to invent him” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/17).
The Nationals drew 16,245 fans for P Stephen Strasburg’s first home start of the season last night against the Astros, the smallest crowd for a game in DC that Strasburg has started. The attendance comes to only 39.1% capacity at Nationals Park. For Strasburg’s four home starts last September following his return from Tommy John surgery, the club averaged 28,849 fans per game (69.5% capacity). Those four starts included one Tuesday night game and three weekend games. Strasburg's seven home starts in '10 averaged 33,446 fans per game (THE DAILY). CSNWASHINGTON.com's Mark Zuckerman noted since Strasburg first broke into MLB in '10, "amid hoopla and packed houses," he has seen the "hysteria surrounding his starts considerably wane." Zuckerman: "'Strasmas,' that national holiday that was observed every five days back when he was a flamethrowing rookie, is no more." That "isn't to say he won't pitch in front of big crowds plenty of times this season and beyond," it just is "no longer a guarantee the turnstiles will need to be greased every time he's scheduled to start." A "near-perfect confluence of negative factors" contributed to last night's low attendance. It was a Monday night game in April, "traditionally the least-attended contests all season," and the Astros are "one of the worst-drawing visiting clubs that will come to DC" in '12. Also, the Capitals hosted the Bruins for Game 3 of the NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. The previous low-attendance mark for a Strasburg start was Aug. 15, 2010, when "only 21,695 showed up to watch" (CSNWASHINGTON.com, 4/16). RUNNING UP THAT HILL: In N.Y., Ken Belson reports with a "core of young talent," the Nationals are "meriting attention in a city otherwise focused on a presidential election." The team "just completed its biggest opening weekend since its current ballpark opened" in '08. While declining to offer specific figures, Nationals COO Andrew Feffer said that season-ticket sales were the "highest they had been since Nationals Park opened." He added that the team had "added W. B. Mason, United Airlines, Toyota, Under Armour and Cholula Hot Sauce as sponsors in the past year." Meanwhile, a new local TV contract "could boost the Nationals’ revenue, give them more money to sign free agents and clearly establish them as the top team in the Baltimore-Washington area" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/17). ESPN’s Terry Francona said if the Nationals "are going to be relevant and be a large market, which they should be, that’s good for baseball” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN2, 4/17).
In Chicago, Philip Hersh cites Scarborough Sports Marketing data as showing that interest in the Blackhawks is "more than five times higher than it was five years ago, and that no U.S. sports franchise has experienced a faster rate of growth in that period." The data also shows that the team has "gone from being a distant fifth in fan interest among the five biggest Chicago pro franchises to the relative equal of everyone but the Bears." Results released in '07 counted just 8% of Chicago-area adults as Blackhawks fans by the WAL standard. Results released last week showed 43% were Hawks fans, compared with 65% for the Bears, 50% for the Cubs, 46% for the Bulls and 40% for the White Sox (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/17).
RECORD-SETTING SALES: The Brewers announced yesterday that they have already sold two million tickets this season, the "earliest the team has ever hit that mark." In Milwaukee, Don Walker notes the "previous record for the fastest" to 2 million came on April 19, 2001, the first year the team played in Miller Park. Last season, the team hit 2 million sold on April 27. Through three home games, the Brewers are averaging 40,460 fans per game, fifth in MLB (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 4/17).
ACCOUNTING FOR FINANCES: On Long Island, Anthony Destefano cited court papers as indicating that the "cash-flow squeeze that faced the owners of the Mets was among the reasons why the trustee in the Bernard Madoff bankruptcy decided to settle his lawsuit" for $162M last month rather than go to trial. Trustee Irving Picard said that the "'restrictive' cash flow, as well as the owners' obligations to banks that lent them money, contributed to doubts that further litigation against Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and their partners in Sterling Equities would produce a bigger payout." Picard said in a statement the settlement "is a practical and fair compromise" that avoided "a protracted and expensive trial and lengthy appeals" (NEWSDAY, 4/15).
CELEBRATORY GEAR: In celebration of the Chiefs' 50 years in K.C., team Chair & CEO Clark Hunt announced all season-ticket account holders -- both existing and new accounts -- will be given one personalized Chiefs Nike jersey per account. The jersey will come with a commemorative STH (Season Ticket Holder) patch that can be placed onto the right shoulder, opposite of the Lamar Hunt AFL patch. Account holders will also be able to purchase additional jerseys at a discounted rate (Chiefs).