Something happened back in 2005 which caused the Hornets to leave New Orleans for all but nine games over the next two years. The Saints also left the city for one season but were back the very next year. Both teams have now returned to the city and seen vastly different fortunes. The Saints have a previously unprecedented 30,000 person waiting list for season tickets. The Hornets, on the other hand, average under 12,000 fans per game, good for last in the league.
Neither team was particularly beloved by the people of New Orleans for their actions in the aftermath of Katrina. The Saints exploits in San Antonio are well documented. While the Hornets weren't perfect after the storm in endearing the people to the team (announcing the team as "your Hometown Hornets" in games in Baton Rouge and New Orleans following the storm...imagine going to a Texas game and having them introduced as "your College You Went To Longhorns"), but this New Orleanian found them less objectionable than the Saints.
And yet, the Saints are drawing like never before and the Hornets can't draw worth a darn. This New Orleanian believes there are three reasons for this situation:
1) The Saints aren't new -- The Saints have been around for forty years, the Hornets haven't even been in the Big Easy for a decade. As such, the thought of losing the Saints inspired New Orleanians to buy season tickets in droves. There was no such drive for Hornets fans who have not had a chance to build up such a large fan base.
2) New Orleans is football mad -- The South is football mad and the Saints are the team of the deep south. Outside of Memphis, basketball is a sideshow for the offseason.
3)Much of the Saints fan base was not wiped out in Katrina -- Believe it or not, a large portion of the fans who sold out the Superdome were mostly not from New Orleans proper. Saints season ticket holders come from Jefferson and St Tammany Parishes, Mississippi, and Alabama in addition to New Orleans. Because of a dispute between television companies, the Hornets are not even on TV in neighboring St Tammany Parish. Imagine any professional sports team doing well without being on TV for up to 40% of their potential fan base.
The New Deal
The deal reached today (Jan 9) gives both sides a "put up or shut up moment." The city/state gets the following:
- No new expensive practice facility for the Hornets
- An extended lease through 2014
- $100 million from Hornets owner George Shinn should he decide to leave
- A chance to prove itself
And the Hornets get...:
- The right to opt out of the lease after next (2008-2009) season should the team fail to draw an average of 14,750 (pre-K average)
- Continued payments from the state
The deal means a few things. It means the Hornets probably aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Shinn would be on the line for $162 million (counting payments to minority owner Gary Chouest) just to move. The deal gives Shinn the opportunity to look for a good situation elsewhere should the team continue drawing poorly. If Shinn finds a great deal in another city (which, with the Sonics likely moving to OKC, seems unlikely) then he can leave and pay more money than he probably has. If not, he's stuck in NOLA. If he isn't hemorrhaging money -- and the significant number of club/suite sales, plus lucrative payments from the state suggests to this fan that he is not -- then there really would be little reason for Shinn to actively seek an alternate home venue.
The deal also reminds Hornets fans that it has to put more butts in the seats or it really may lose the team. Despite his imperfect dealing post-Katrinia, Shinn has done a fantastic job building a franchise that can compete in the difficult West. The team has a dynamic young superstar in Chris Paul, an improving young big man in Tyson Chandler, and enough shooters to make the team a regular playoff contender. The outlook for the team really is more positive than most members of the national media would dare suggest. New Orleans will host its first All-Star Game soon and attendance will only increase as the playoffs get closer. If the Hornets are still struggling at the gates in April in the midst of a playoff run despite being on TV throughout south Louisiana, then the Hornets may be in trouble.
Until then -- go Hornets.
Ok, one KD video: