Guiding teams on two very different paths
Such opportunities have created new demands for Lauscha, who took over the business operations of the Hornets after Saints owner Tom Benson bought the team from the NBA for $338 million in April. Like Lauscha, at least three other executives have taken on duties with the Hornets in addition to working with the Saints. This year marks the start of the Hornets’ ninth full season in New Orleans, having moved to the city in 2002 but playing temporarily in Oklahoma City from 2005-07 because of Hurricane Katrina. Lauscha spoke with staff writer John Lombardo on the eve on the Hornets’ home opener at New Orleans Arena last week and talked about the work that’s required to lead both teams.
■ You have a unique job, running the business operations of both clubs. Talk about the challenges of doing that.
LAUSCHA: The thing that makes it doable is that we have a management team that has been here since 2000 and it has been through a lot, from Hurricane Katrina to a Saints championship and a lot of stuff in between. One of the challenges is that the [Hornets] have had some instability since the team has been here. We are in a market where the fan avidity of NFL football is among the highest in the country. College football is a bit less but still very high, and the third is basketball — so we have to move the market there as well. The Saints have been successful to the degree that the brand is what we promise. We have to bring the same philosophy to the Hornets. We want people to think about NBA basketball. It is about having a properly priced ticket, having a good product and being a good corporate citizen.
■How will you use cross-promotional efforts between the Saints and Hornets?
LAUSCHA: When someone buys two sports teams, there is that automatic reaction. The easy thing to do is to force Saints fans to be Hornets fans, but that doesn’t work. They are two different sports. The football fan has been here for 40 years, and it’s not like we are going to twist their arms to buy into basketball. We have good relationships with our sponsors in the marketplace. I don’t think the discussion from us is so much that “Since you are a Saints partner, I will lean on you to be a Hornets partner.” It is, “How can we complement you with a basketball sponsorship?” The teams are distinct properties and they have to stand alone. The thing that we do more than anything else is to find out best practices with the Saints and the Hornets and how they transfer over to each other.
■ What have you found are the biggest operational differences in running an NBA team?
LAUSCHA: There are 80-plus games in the NBA, and I haven’t been through a full season to see how the wear and tear will affect us. Getting to know that and pacing our way through it will be a challenge.
■ So what is the biggest priority right now in running the Hornets?
LAUSCHA: We have a new television deal with Fox Sports that has doubled the number of homes we are in, and I only see that increasing. We have a new radio deal, and now the other giant component is the $50 million we are putting into the arena. We really are trying to transform the arena into a state-of-the art facility. We did something similar with the Saints at the Superdome. Based on arena renderings, our fans will get excited about the transformation of the arena. On top of that, we have to build a practice facility. The Hornets have been in the market for over a decade and the team still has not had its own facility. We are starting that process.
■ Talk about your learning curve of the NBA side of the business. What has surprised you the most?
LAUSCHA: There is a lot for me to learn. What I like about the NBA is the support we get from the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department. I really like the data and I like to set goals based on that strategy. I am also really excited about the NBA’s international business. With the Saints, we have played in London [in 2008] and we like to think we understand how important international business is. It is refreshing to see how successful the NBA has been in its international business.
Dennis Lauscha (left) watches a Hornets game with Saints and Hornets owner Tom Benson.
LAUSCHA: Right now, we really stick to our calendars. When we say we are having a meeting, then we are having a meeting and we run a tight ship. I work six or seven days a week. It is tremendously challenging. We are in a small market and if we can consistently compete on the basketball floor, on the football field and on the business side, it is a real accomplishment.
■ Who have you turned to for advice in running the Hornets?
LAUSCHA: I have talked to a lot of people on the NBA side, and I stay in touch with NBA Commissioner David Stern. He has been a great source of information for me, and I have a good relationship with him that was established when we were in the acquisition mode. No one wants to see us succeed as much as David. I also talk to [former Hornets chairman] Jac Sperling.
■ How involved is Tom Benson on the NBA side of the business?
LAUSCHA: He is thoroughly involved. What people don’t understand is how hard he works. He is here every morning and sometimes he is the first to arrive and the last to leave. I don’t think many people really understand the business background he has. He likes business and he likes turnaround companies. It starts and ends with him.
■ Will we see more front-office duties being combined across the two teams in the future, and if so, where?
LAUSCHA: I think we have the structure now we want. I would never say anything is final, but the structure we have now is working very well and we are happy with the results. I see us continuing to go with this structure.