Checking in with the President: Part 3
By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
October 13, 2011

Its time to check in again with New Orleans Hornets President Hugh Weber. Weber is responsible for facilitating all aspects of the franchise, including strategic planning, business development, marketing/branding, and day-to-day business and basketball operations for over 100 employees.

In Part 3, Weber addresses several of the Hornets recent off-the-court developments, including their continued success in selling season tickets. From June 7 through the present, New Orleans is No. 1 in the NBA in the sale of new season tickets. With the number of Hornets season tickets sold for 2011-12 continuing to climb, now exceeding the 9,000 mark, what has been the impact of the teams 100 Events in 100 Days initiative so far? What has the experience been like for you personally?
Weber: The 100 Events in 100 Days initiative was designed to help us sell season tickets in a time that is usually a slow period. We had just completed our playoff series with the Lakers and getting people on the phone to talk about season tickets for next year wasnt easy. The events created an atmosphere that had a family or neighborly feel, gathering in peoples homes or offices talking about what is important to all of us...our city and how the Hornets fit into our regions future.

We were able to share our plans and hear concerns from fans and how we can improve as a team. For many current season ticket holders, it strengthened their connection to who we are as a team and the leadership that is working hard to achieve our goals. For those that we were able to bring into the family through new season ticket purchases, it was a very unique way to first experience the brand. It wasnt an ad or an unsolicited phone call, it was meeting team leadership face to face and being able to ask questions. We believe in the long run those personal connections will create a stronger bond and a better experience for our fans. Dell Demps and Monty Williams have been very visible during 100 Events in 100 Days, including giving numerous, thoughtful speeches to groups of local business professionals and fans not exactly a common part of the job description for an NBA general manager and head coach. What role has their participation played in the teams ongoing offseason initiatives?
Weber: When Monty and Dell were recruited to come be part of the organization, they understood the task at hand went well beyond their own job responsibilities. Much of what motivated both of them was having an impact beyond basketball to influencing the overall team and ultimately an effect on the entire community.

I know people love them for the way they perform their responsibilities, but its what they do beyond their jobs that makes them so special. So when it came time for everyone in our organization, 135 strong, to help get the team to 10,000 season tickets, it was natural that Dell and Monty would feel the need to do their part. This is part of what makes me so proud to work with both these men. There are not many teams in any major professional league that has a head coach and general manager that are as committed to the overall performance of the team, the satisfaction of the fans, and the importance of the team in the community (another may be right here in New Orleans as well). There has been a considerable amount of national discussion recently about the franchises encouraging summer, including in multiple comments by NBA Commissioner David Stern. What is your reaction to the positive reviews for the team off the court?
Weber: I am proud of our fans and our organization when I hear the impressive dialogue thats come out in the past few weeks. Still, I know that we have not met our goals yet. We want this team to be led by local ownership and in order to make that happen we have to complete our ticketing and sponsorship objectives. There is no question we have momentum, but there are many chapters yet to be written and lots of hard work yet to be completed. The area in the vicinity of the New Orleans Arena continues to undergo a transformation, including the anticipated re-opening of the Hyatt Regency. What impact could some of the nearby improvements have on the Hornets in the future?
Weber: The development of the Sports District (area around the Superdome and New Orleans Arena) as another destination in the city bodes well for something we are very focused on: Fan Experience. Whether its Saints games, Hornets games, VooDoo games, concerts, Essence Fest, Super Bowls, NBA All-Star Games, BCS Championship games, NCAA Final Four games, or (fill in the blank), New Orleans is one of the best cities in the world at putting on the biggest events.

Generally fans are increasingly more sophisticated in what they desire when attending events and in order to compete nationally, there is a need to continually improve the entire experience (pre- and post-event). That being said, we consider the Hornets to be an anchor to that activity with our 41-game regular season home schedule, preseason games and playoff games. What will make the district work is a critical mass of activity and we will provide the most consistent content in that area of the city over a calendar year. Partnering with those that are committed to the continued development and success of the area benefits everyone in the state, for it is those events that put our region on center stage globally. One of the major points of emphasis for the Hornets has been that fans should have accessibility to the organization and be able to communicate easily with the front office. You even took the unusual step recently of giving out your phone number to large gatherings of season ticket holders in the New Orleans Arena. Why is that so important to you and the franchise?
Weber: We start with the premise that our fans are the primary stakeholders in this team. I know this sounds corny, but we come to work every day to make our fans proud of what we do. At first, I would personally call fans who were dissatisfied with what we were doing trying to understand what we could do to get better. What I found is that people felt more connected when they felt heard, so I started giving out my direct phone number with the commitment that I would return every call, every e-mail.

Over time it became less about those that were dissatisfied and more about questions people wanted to have answered or great ideas they had on improving who we are. The Im In initiative became the face-to-face incarnation of the idea as most of these gatherings turned into question-and-answer sessions with a whole lot of great ideas coming from them. I will admit that there are times that we make a trade or something similar and my phone will ring off the hook. It takes me a while, but I do return each call and share our rationale. We are not perfect as an organization, but we also feel that if we are transparent, our diligence, hard work, smarts and passion will shine through. We want our fans to feel personally connected to the Hornets and there is no better way than having a direct line to leadership. Speaking of communication, you recently launched a new Twitter account - @hughweber1. How do you plan to utilize Twitter and what do you think will be some of the benefits of it for fans?
Weber: I am a self-proclaimed late adopter of Twitter, but my hope is that I can share some insights that are behind team decisions and share some of the incredible experiences that I have in our great city. It is an incredibly exciting time for our team and our city - having a tool to share quickly the developments of both furthers our cause to stay connected to fans.

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