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Volume 21 No. 1


The NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets last week hit their season-ticket sales goal of 10,000, but the team still faces some business challenges as it positions itself to be sold in the wake of the league’s new labor deal.

“There are multiple groups interested” in the Hornets, Chairman Jac Sperling says.
“We are not home yet, but things are lining up in the right direction,” said Hornets Chairman Jac Sperling, who was hired by NBA Commissioner David Stern last year to improve the team’s business operations and spearhead the sale of the franchise. “There are multiple groups interested.”

The Hornets announced Dec. 8 that they had passed the 10,000 mark for full-season tickets. The benchmark of 10,000 had been set to show potential buyers that there is sufficient local support for the franchise. New Orleans’ all-time high for season tickets sold is 10,400, coming in 2008-09.

The Hornets had 6,300 season-ticket holders last season.

The league’s new collective-bargaining agreement, which was expected to be formally approved last week, is helping to stoke the team-sale process, as well.

“Obviously a lot of [potential buyers] want to see what the CBA is,” Sperling said, declining to name the number of potential buyers. “A purchase could have happened without [a new CBA], but it helps give definition.”

The NBA bought the Hornets last December for more than $300 million from former owner George Shinn. Last season, the team posted an average attendance of 14,709 fans a game, fifth-lowest in the 30-team NBA.

The team is still looking to secure a long-term lease extension for state-owned New Orleans Arena. The Hornets’ lease runs through the 2013-14 season and comes with a provision that allows the club to relocate if average attendance drops below 14,735 over two years, provided that the team pays the state a $10 million fee.

In addition, the Hornets now have five top-level Crescent City partners, with each deal worth at least $1 million annually.

The Charlotte Bobcats have outsourced ticket sales to fill a staffing void left by the NBA lockout.

As part of its whirlwind 30-day “back-to-business” plan, the Bobcats signed a short-term deal with Get Real Sports Sales of Indianapolis. Jake Vernon, the company’s president, is former vice president of ticket sales for the Indiana Pacers.

For the month of December, Get Real Sports has four sales representatives in Indianapolis making phone calls to Charlotte-area residents to sell full-season tickets and mini-plans. The Bobcats gave the 11-month-old company roughly 4,000 leads to pursue that the team could not follow up on after cutting inside sales in half to four during the lockout, said Pete Guelli, the team’s executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

“To get up to speed, we thought it made sense to hire a third party,” Guelli said. “We are in the process of hiring, but we can’t get bodies here as quickly as we would like. It’s a month-to-month arrangement and will continue until we are fully staffed.”

Get Real Sports’ staffers are paid $1,000 to $1,500 a month plus a commission in the 20 percent range. Those numbers are comparable to the average pay for an NBA inside sales rep, according to industry sources. Marc Jackson, the Bobcats’ director of ticket sales, and Mike Barbato, senior manager of inside sales, spent time on the phone educating Get Real Sports on the team’s products before the company’s staffers started making their calls. Their databases are linked to help create a seamless operation.

Get Real Sports is one of a few companies specializing in outsourcing ticket sales, a trend that started in college sports over the past two to three years. The Aspire Group and IMG Ticket Solutions are two firms that schools hire to sell football and basketball season tickets on their behalf. Get Real Sports’ clients include Butler University men’s basketball in Indianapolis, where outsourcing is done on campus. Vernon’s firm previously sold tickets remotely for the Cincinnati Reds and Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes.

“With the pending labor agreements for the NFL and NBA, I saw opportunities for outsourcing and I decided to go into business on my own,” Vernon said. “We’re built for teams … to cultivate sales and generate incremental dollars.”

The Bobcats are Get Real Sports’ second NBA client this year. In early June, the Minnesota Timberwolves used the firm for three weeks leading up to the July 1 lockout. In Minnesota, inside sales is a seasonal position that ends in the spring before new hires are made in June for the following season. This year, because of the lockout, the Timberwolves hired Get Real Sports rather than hire staff to work the phones at Target Center, said Ryan Tanke, senior vice president of ticket sales and premium seating.

For a team that has struggled on the court and at the ticket window during the past few years, outsourcing was successful, according to Tanke. After the initial two-week sales period produced 40 new full-season ticket holders, the Timberwolves signed a one-week extension with Get Real Sports that led to a dozen more new accounts. In addition to making new sales, Get Real Sports eliminated hundreds of bad leads with disconnected phone numbers, providing additional value to the team, Tanke said.

Like the Bobcats, the Timberwolves went through the sales process with Get Real staff on several conference calls and discussed the culture of the team to make them “feel part of the organization,” he said.

“In a few hours, we went through who and what our team is and the challenges and objections they could face on the phone,” Tanke said.

For potential buyers who want to see their prospective arena seats, Get Real Sports staff members provided them with contact information for Laura Meyer, the Timberwolves’ ticket sales and premium seating supervisor. Then they sent Meyer an email or called her cell phone to notify her.

Get Real Sports “became an extension of our sales force,” Tanke said. “They don’t know you’re calling from Indianapolis.”