Many are calling it a feel-good story of the NBA season, but the New Orleans Hornets story is clearly also the greatest business story of this NBA season.
In a year in which New Orleans was handed the All-Star Game perhaps as a parting gift by NBA commish David Stern, who might have been feeling bad he was going to rip the Hornets out of the Katrina-ravaged town in a couple year's time and ship them off to a more viable city, the team caught fire on the shoulders of Chris Paul and all of a sudden have a rabid fan base wanting more.
At the time of the All-Star Game, the Hornets were averaging 12,645 fans per game and many writing them off as gone, with the team option of getting out of the arena lease if they averaged less than 14,735 for the 2008-09 season.
Well, they finished the regular season averaging 14,181 fans per game and unless they fudge the numbers to the negative, there's no chance they'll draw less than 14,800 next year.
What New Orleans' success on the court -- and recent string of sellouts prove -- is that there is no such thing as a good or bad market. Everything is relative. All markets are driven by a variety of factors and winning tops all.
Last night's Game 2 win against the Mavericks was significant because it marked the first time that the Hornets -- playing a full season in New Orleans -- outdrew the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. (The Bobcats finishing the season drawing 603,403 fans. The Hornets now at 616,773 on the season, following last night's sellout crowd.)
Even counting playoff games, I never thought that would happen.
And now look at Charlotte. We thought the bad attendance at the end was about apathy towards the owners, who of course wound up in New Orleans. We thought Michael Jordan would mean something -- and how about that spanking new arena? Beautiful, isn't it?
This week, Bobcats owner Robert Johnson told the Charlotte Business Journal that the team has lost $50 million since its inception.
And while we're at it we might as well mention that they've stopped the presses at the t-shirt shop on those "Oklahoma City Hornets" t-shirts to print up "Oklahoma City Sonics" shirts.
Where are the Hornets going now? Kansas City? Or my favorite city always mentioned -- Hampton Roads! (For those who don't recall, this was always a favorite location in the 90s.)
While the success of the New Orleans Saints and their run to the NFC championship game was closer to Katrina, what the Hornets and Chris Paul have done in the last couple months have been a bigger business save for the city. The Saints, because of the revenue sharing the NFL provides, could have survived in New Orleans without that winning season. Without a season like this one, you can't say the same for the Hornets.
Now on to Paul himself. Everyone talks about his amazing game. It's easy to. Just look at last night -- 32 points and 17 assists. Well, here's something you should know. I recently asked someone in the NBA. "Who is the absolute best player to work with off the court?" They named Paul. I just love that.
I also love his endorsement roster, by the way: The Jordan brand, the NBA 2K8 video game and the US Bowling Congress!
The shame of it all is that while this is a great business story for New Orleans, at some point the league has to root against this story. No matter how good Chris Paul is, ratings in the finals are all fan base, market size and tradition.
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