There seems to be no end in the debate of what to do with smaller franchises like that of the New Orleans Hornets. While cities like Memphis, Charlotte and Minnesota struggle to support a franchise it’s New Orleans that takes much of the brunt when it comes to moving teams into “bigger” markets. Over the past year it has been well known that ownership over the franchise has been shaky. Even when the NBA stepped in to offer some kind of stability, general NBA commentators used it as a means to scrutinize the smaller market organizations. The general consensus is that no small market can support a franchise over the long term, but I’m here to tell you that isn’t always the case.
Just as the on-court inconsistencies of the Hornets continue so too does the off-court activity. What this has all done has made the casual NBA fan in New Orleans question the organizations viability within the region.
Most people reading this will know that the NBA can work in New Orleans. In 2007 the franchise had a number of sellouts and were known as one of the most raucous fans in all of the league. In 2008 the city hosted the league’s All-Star weekend demonstrating their ability to organize and produce one of the most exciting of such weekend’s in the history of the league.
The product has been proven before, even President Hugh Weber notes, “We all know basketball can work in New Orleans, we’ve seen it before.” It’s been done before, it can be done again.
The problem lies however in the separation of the average fan.
Investing time, money and emotional connection with a team takes a lot away from the average person. The question lies in the notion that two professional sporting franchises cannot succeed in the Louisiana region.
I say you are completely off-base and off the reservation with that assumption.
Turn the clock back a bit and you’ll discover that only 5 years ago Hurricane Katrina destroyed large parts of the city of New Orleans, the levy’s broke displacing much of the population in to states such as Texas, Georgia and Alabama. In turn the population of New Orleans after the disaster was less than it previously was, yet many returned rebuilding the most cultured city in all of America. Commentators though use this as a reason to leave and not a reason to stay. It was a disaster and it certainly had its economic impacts, yet commerce still proceeded to take place and today the city is as viable place as any to conduct multi-national corportation activities.
The NBA is as such a multi-national corporation. Fans everywhere question it’s foothold in the region. A joking gesture by a local that “Hasn’t that Hornets team left yet?” may seem light-heartened at the time, yet its long lasting impact is deep. Support has been in a word, strong. The Business community has rallied to keep the team here and foundations have been set up. Yet everyone in the NBA community looks for destinations to move the team. None have stood up and looked at whether a 300 million dollar business can indeed succeed in the region. Common sense would make one think that if the NFL can succeed in Louisiana, why can’t the NBA too?
Sure the cultural connection to the Saints is large, but so is their history. The Hornets did, for those who remain uninterested in the franchises history, only move to the town of New Orleans 7 years ago.
Is that really the amount of time necessary to judge whether it can work or not? Is that the time frame for a business model?
In the Hornets first season in the Big Easy they ranked 19th in attendance ahead of cities like Miami, New Jersey, Denver, Houston and Atlanta all big market cities. A few couple of dismal season later and a return to New Orleans saw attendance averages rise to just under 17,000 a game. Much of this was due to a successful play in the playoffs the year before, but the key thing to remember is it took time for the team to win over the fans. It took a national media bandwagon to rally the casual, fair-weather fans to the party. It took that same national media to then bash or rather scrutinize the organization in little over two years to then alienate those casual on-lookers. Even if we, the dedicated know of this teams success and entertainment value it means nothing to the casual on-looker who mearly looks at the headline in the Sunday paper.
With my ear against the wall it seems apparent that something rather interesting happens after New Year’s, crowds increase rather exponentially. This happens if the team is in the hunt and this year we very well are. The reason many say is because of three common articles.
1. High School Football
It appears that once High School football season ends that crowds tend to increase. This happens because in the majority of cases a night at the basketball is rather a “family friendly event.” The games are usually not late at night, are relatively quick in time and are to a degree intimate (as opposed to the NFL). Families are unwilling to spend money on going to the basketball when they’d much rather partake in the local festivities, that is the way New Orleans is shaped.
2. NFL Season ends
For the life of me I can’t understand why people who have a limited amount of disposable income would spend more money to go to one NFL game than spending the same amount of money to go to five NBA games. It boggles the mind. Yet with the Saints producing in recent times some have taken to them more than the Hornets. As of today I firmly expect those same fans to emotionally and financially invest in the fanhood of the New Orleans Hornets. Joe Gerrity shares my sentiment as he believes that it’s not absurd to think that because the Saints are done that the Hornets can’t attract an extra 1000 people.
3. NBA Regular Season Kicks Into Gear Now
I don’t really understand the importance of games in October, Novemeber and December. Sure you have to win, but wins in February and March seem much more valuable. Fans in New Orleans are no fools either. After mediocre attendance numbers at the start of the season things have picked up in December. While national commentators will ignore this it’s still important to note that things generally pick up towards the most important part of the season.
I guess I’d like to really sum things up by giving you one thing to consider.
It’s something that hasn’t really been considered by many people especially the most devoted fans like us. We see most things at their short-term face value and have no idea what the future holds. I think though we need to let things work their course. We need to keep on fighting, encouraging the average citizen in New Orleans to see the Hornets as an important entitiy in the city. Sure it’s been only 7 years but maybe if we give things time and let the fans naturally embrace the team rather than force a gauntlet of panic and cry’s for attention then maybe things stand a chance.
The NBA can work in New Orleans it just has to be given the right structure and the amount of time necessary to allow the team to connect with the city in a progressive and natural manner.