Sperling, Weber answer FAQs on Hornets' status

Wednesday, June 8, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

On Tuesday, New Orleans Hornets executives Jac Sperling and Hugh Weber spoke extensively to the local media, part of the team’s announcement of its “100 Events in 100 Days” initiative. The two men addressed a wide range of questions related to the ongoing process of eventually fostering the sale of the franchise to someone who will keep it in Louisiana long term.

While there are a multitude of ancillary issues that have been debated and discussed, Sperling perhaps best summarized the situation by saying that every current effort the organization is making is part of its attempt to make the Hornets a more attractive purchase for a local buyer.

“For us, all of the other issues that people want to talk about are irrelevant, such as collective-bargaining negotiations, et cetera,” Sperling said. “Those are not relevant to our situation. This is about New Orleans. This is about the Hornets in New Orleans. We can control this.”

With that in mind, here are some of the most prominent, frequently-asked questions related to the current situation and the team’s offseason from a non-basketball perspective. The first handful of comments were submitted by Hornets fans on Twitter. If you have any other Hornets-related questions, please send them to @Jim_Eichenhofer.

@patrickclay10: Isn’t it kind of unrealistic to expect this small market to be in the top echelon of season ticket sales (i.e. 10,000)? Yes, the city had 10,000 season tickets after the 2007-08 season, but this isn't the same scenario at all.
Since individual NBA teams don’t publicly release their season-ticket numbers or publicly rank each other against other clubs, it may not be accurate to assume that 10,000 would put the Hornets in the “top echelon” of sales. But when he was asked whether or not it’s “fair” to make 10,000 season tickets the stated goal for a city the size of New Orleans – particularly while some larger NBA markets are struggling with ticket sales – Weber said: “It’s not an issue of fairness. It’s (about) getting (the franchise) ready to be sold to someone (from New Orleans). If someone was willing to buy the team with half of the financial performance (it currently has)… well, we saw that that (didn’t) work out too well.

“This is about getting (the financial situation) to a point where we have long-term commitments and we’ve got the right financial model here so someone will buy it. Candidly, if our objective is to make sure it’s successful here, what happens in other markets doesn’t (factor in greatly).”

@MGBeraki: What happens if the team doesn’t reach 10,000 season tickets?
Sperling: “First of all, it’s not a ‘benchmark.’ I want to make sure we make this clear. This is not a benchmark. This is a goal we’re trying to achieve, to make this team more attractive to a local buyer. If we get to 9,800, is that going to be good (enough)? Probably. But the point of it is that this is not a benchmark. In terms of our discussions, we’ve had very casual conversations with (potential) local buyers. But we haven’t engaged in anything serious because we’re waiting until we get the financial situation in a more improved state. And we’re working on that (right now).”

@MGBeraki: Is there a deadline for selling the team to a local buyer?
Sperling said the NBA has given no timetable for the sale of the team. Sperling: “Let me say one thing: Back in December, when the NBA purchased this team to keep it here, they could’ve sold it to someone else – as you have read about – who wanted to move it. They could’ve sold it to a lot of people who wanted to move it. They didn’t do it. (Instead), they hired me, someone from New Orleans, to try to figure out a way to keep the team here. And so, I think if you read between the lines – it’s probably not (even) between the lines – the NBA would like to find a way to keep the team here. It’s not guaranteed. But the NBA would like to keep the team here. It’s within our control now, whether or not we can make this financially attractive to a local buyer.”

@mttnola: Jac Sperling seemed pretty convincing in his interview. The team better get to 10,000!
As Sperling mentioned in a previous quote, the number of 10,000 is not a cut-and-dried, make-or-break number. Ultimately the future of the franchise will be up to the owner or group of owners who become involved in the process of purchasing the team and keeping it in New Orleans.

FAQ: How much do the ongoing labor negotiations affect the process of finding a local owner who will keep the team in New Orleans?
Sperling: “Well, there have been several sales of NBA teams (recently, including Golden State and Detroit) knowing that there is a collective-bargaining agreement expiring. So I don’t think it has any impact on a potential buyer. What has the impact is understanding the economic condition of the team. I think that’s what we can control. What we can control is whether or not we can get to that 10,000 level. If we can do that, I think it’s going to increase the likelihood substantially of attracting a local buyer.”

FAQ: Why did the team pick the number 10,000 as its goal for number of season tickets in 2011-12?
Weber: “There are a couple reasons why (the number of) 10,000 is important. One is, 10,000 is the number the other 29 owners – who have a stake in this team – (use to) judge themselves. When they see (that number) has been passed in New Orleans, it gives everyone confidence to say that this is a market with long-term viability. Secondly, as you look at an ownership group coming in, if you’re asking them to make a significant dollar contribution to invest in a team like this, they can’t do it on the hope that people will step up. Knowing that the financial model works, from a bottom-line standpoint, is critically important.”

FAQ: How concerned is the team that fans may be hesitant to purchase season tickets based on potential uncertainty in the future about the team’s roster?
Weber: “There are a number of reasons why people buy tickets. We’ve done a vast number of surveys on this. The surveys all come back that (fans) are very confident in (our) basketball operations and the direction of the team and that this team is on the rise. That whatever the challenges may be with Chris (Paul) or David (West) opting out, we have leadership that is going to make the right decisions to make the team better.

“What it (often) comes down to (for potential ticket buyers) is, ‘Do I have enough time to go to 41 games? What’s the cost of tickets?’ We’ve come up with some programs (to address those questions). We have a 10-game buyback plan where if you have season tickets and can’t go to 10 games, we’ll buy them back. If you look at those surveys, the vast majority of people who haven’t bought yet, it’s not basketball-related.”

FAQ: Is there a concern about “fan fatigue” setting in, a feeling among the fans of New Orleans that they’ve had to prove themselves repeatedly due to attendance benchmarks in the past and that this is just another example of that?
Weber: “I’m 1,000 percent empathetic with our fans and the real fatigue of having to prove themselves. I totally get it. Which is why we’d love to structure a different partnership with the state that does not have a clause (that includes) having to prove ourselves over and over again. That (attendance-benchmark) metric was built into our agreement for a variety of reasons, but the unintended consequences (is fan fatigue).”

In a related but differently-worded question, Sperling was asked how important it is for the Hornets organization to push to sell tickets. Sperling: “We have to. The alternative is to do nothing. Is that an option? I don’t believe so. So what we need to do is be proactive and do everything we can within our power to make this team more attractive to a local buyer.”