Names Behind the Games: Eddie Johnson
By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
September 1, 2011

If you regularly attend games in the New Orleans Arena, the odds are extremely high that youve collected a mountain of free items, including Hornets T-shirts, bobbleheads, team posters and mini-basketballs. One of the people to thank for the staggering number of promotional giveaways in the Hive every winter is Eddie Johnson, the teams manager of promotions and events.

After local businesses agree to sponsor fan giveaways, Johnson gets on the telephone with companies who are accustomed to handling the kinds of unique requests they only get from sports teams. For example, Johnson has a company on speed dial that can quickly create and ship 18,000 identical gold T-shirts to New Orleans for fans to wear during a home playoff game.

Freebies are only one aspect of Johnsons role with the Hornets, however. He also coordinates many of the fan-friendly promotions the team has created since its full-time return to New Orleans in 2007. The Hornets are the only NBA franchise that plans a pregame party outside their arena at all 41 home games, known as Buzz Fest.

Like numerous Hornets employees, Johnson is a Louisiana native with a multitude of ties to the region. He grew up in Lacombe, La., which is located across Lake Pontchartrain on the Northshore, roughly 40 miles from NOLA. A graduate of the University of New Orleans, he became an avid Hornets fan when the franchise moved to the Pelican State in 2002.

As a starting guard for the basketball team at Fontainebleau High in Mandeville, the 6-foot-2 Johnson received a first-hand look at the recent growth of basketball talent in Louisiana, a state known previously for producing footballers. In the late 1990s, Johnson played against two local star athletes who are currently on NBA rosters.

I always wanted to play in the NBA, but by the time I got to college, I knew that was unrealistic, Johnson recalled. When the Hornets came here in 02, my eyes immediately lit up. I felt like that was my opportunity to someday work in the NBA. From that point on, I did whatever I could to put myself in position to be someone they would consider hiring.

Johnsons tenure with the Hornets began as a volunteer during the 2003-04 season, when one of his primary roles was to set up equipment and promotional games for Buzz Fest. Seven years later, hes come full circle: Hes now in charge of overseeing the entire Buzz Fest operation prior to every game.

More from Johnson on his experiences working for the Hornets:

I would have to reflect back to 2007-08, the first full season back in New Orleans. It was a special experience from start to finish. We hosted the All-Star Game, the Hornets battled the Lakers for first place in Western Conference, Byron Scott won Coach of the Year and it was just a fun and exciting playoff run. A great taste of what the NBA is really about. Some of the most exciting times of my life so far.

The fans. I am in the Event Presentation department and our jobs are to entertain our fans night in and night out, outside of what actually happens on the court. Creating the atmosphere on game days from the moment you step out of your car with music, food and games at Buzz Fest, to when fans enter the arena receiving giveaways and our activities on the concourse. We look to build energy, excitement and fun leading up to every game. We want every person that comes to our games to have the best time of their life. It makes you happy to see others smile knowing you assisted in that happening.

How many elements my department and myself are involved with across the board. I order all of the game giveaways, as well as oversee our Buzz Fest pregame block party, Jr. Hornets Kids Club, All-Star balloting campaign, concourse activities, Summer Hoops basketball clinics, major team events and grassroots appearances (Hugo, Honeybees and Buzz Patrol in the community), etc. I feel very lucky and fortunate to be in my position.

As a huge NBA fan, I started off as a 10-game ticket plan holder back in 02, using the little money I had saved working in college to purchase tickets at the very top row of Section 310 in the Balcony. At one of the games, I saw a college classmate who worked with the Hornets and watched him during promotions on the court I was intrigued with his responsibilities. The day after I saw him at a game, I spoke with him on campus, got a better idea of what he did and immediately changed my major (from Computer Science to Sports Management). I started volunteering with the Hornets a year later and that turned into a game-day staff position. A year later it turned into a full-time internship and with hard work a year later I became a full-time coordinator. I am now in my second season as Promotions and Events Manager with the team.

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