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Volume 21 No. 2


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.
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.”

The Fox Sports-owned Home Team Sports signed a deal to sell national advertising for the Sacramento Kings, giving HTS deals with 28 of the 29 U.S.-based NBA teams.

Only the Los Angeles Lakers do not have a deal with the group, which sells national advertising for regional sports networks and teams.

The Kings give HTS a nearly complete roster of NBA clients.
As part of the Kings deal, Home Team Sports will sell national ad time for the team’s games on Comcast SportsNet California and News 10, as well as in-arena signs, promotions and sponsorships.

“Our model, being out and having six offices across the country, is a good thing for them because we’ll get them connected to brands that are sitting in other parts of the country that they wouldn’t normally get to,” said Craig Sloan, HTS senior vice president of national advertising sales.

HTS has identified selling in-arena signs and sponsorships as a growth area. Previously, it stuck to selling commercial time for RSNs. Now in addition to the Kings deal, it has deals to sell multimedia assets and in-arena signs for the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers.

HTS started selling for the Kings at the beginning of the season, and Sloan said his team already has brought in several new advertisers, including AT&T, KFC, Lionsgate Films and Volkswagen of America.

“We have all aspects of the Kings’ sales — the logo to in-arena assets to community involvement to getting players involved with brands — that we can offer into an equation to advertisers,” Sloan said.

The Detroit Lions are expected today to unveil a pricing plan for 2014 that will make them the first NFL team to implement variable ticket pricing for the regular season and that slashes the price of tickets for their preseason games by 70 percent.

The NFL for years has been hit with criticism over tickets for preseason games not being marked down from regular-season prices. As for variable pricing, the NBA, NHL and MLB all have teams that offer different prices for individual game tickets based on the perceived marketability of the opponent, but teams in those leagues have much more ticket inventory to sell each year than NFL clubs — NBA and NHL teams with 41 home dates each, and MLB clubs with 81 dates, compared with NFL teams having only eight regular-season games apiece.

The NFL, though, has struggled in recent years with providing value to fans for attending games compared with the at-home entertainment experience. The league has focused on offering amenities to fans, and it recently began discussions about implementing variable ticket pricing.

Detroit becomes the first team to act on those talks.

For 2014, the Lions will split their eight regular-season home games into premium and nonpremium levels, along with dropping the price of their two preseason games by 70 percent. The Lions’ home schedule next season features division opponents Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota, along with Buffalo, Miami, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants. Game dates have not yet been set.

A team spokesman said the Lions’ annual Thanksgiving Day game and the game against New Orleans would fall into the premium category, but he did not offer what the other two premium games would be or what the price discrepancy between the tiers would be.

“Data from the secondary market has equipped us to make more educated and fair pricing decisions based on anticipated demand,” said Todd Lambert, vice president of ticketing and suite sales.

The Lions’ season-ticket prices next season are increasing 8.2 percent compared with 2013, rising to $83.37 per game.