It’s not about attendance, it’s about energy and effort

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Published: January 21, 2009

14,750.

That is a number that, last season, made every New Orleans Hornets fan shudder with fear. George Shinn and the Hornets front office struck a deal with the state to keep our beloved Bees here until 2014, BUT there was this attendance threshold included therein. If the fans have not gotten through the turnstiles at an average rate of the number listed above, from December 2007 through the end of the 2008-’09 season, the team would have an out to break their lease. What was seen as an unpopular move by the Hornets ownership has turned into genius. Make no mistake; George Shinn knew exactly what he was doing in issuing a challenge to New Orleans, and to the entire gulf coast community.

Us Hornets season ticket holders had plenty reason to fear as well. I can remember sitting in the Arena watching the Hornets play the Memphis Grizzlies, with barely 10,000 folks in the building. Meanwhile, there were over 40,000 next door at the Superdome for the High School state football championships. (As a side-note, I’m glad the schedulers got it right this year scheduling a road game during that weekend.) I remember the Sixers game in the Arena last season, less than 9,000 in the Arena. In all, there were less than 10,000 fans in not less than 4 games last season before December 15th. The Hornets first sellout was against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 29th. Before that, the Hornets had exactly two games where they met the 14,750 attendance mark. The Hornets attendance woes were as much bait for beat writers as the Houston Rockets’ injury problems.

After the All-Star break last season, the gulf coast woke up and smelled the coffee. The Hornets enjoyed a string of sellouts, and really turned New Orleans Arena into a real home-court advantage. The players and fans got a taste of what playoff success and failure were like, but no one had a clue how that would translate to the 2008-’09 season.

Here we are, almost mid-way through the ’08-’09 campaign, and attendance is no longer an issue. The Hornets first sellout of the year again was the Cavs. Only this time, Lebron and company was the home opener. To date the Hornets have enjoyed a season average attendance of 16,975 per game, which is 17th in the league from a raw numbers or “butts-in-seats” standpoint. Factor in that New Orleans Arena is among the smallest in the NBA and look at capacity percentage, and you see an entirely different story. The Hornets average 98.8% fill, which is good enough for 8th in the league. That’s even ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder, although OKC’s raw attendance numbers are a little higher.

So, Mr. Shinn issued a challenge that was met head-on by the fine folks of New Orleans. Nice job everyone, we can all pat ourselves on the back. But… I think it’s time to issue another challenge to ourselves, the fans. When I go to the games, I don’t see the same excitement, the same passion, or the same anticipation of success (the closing moments of the Indy game aside). It’s almost like us N.O. sports fans are waiting, just waiting for that Saints-like collapse we are so very accustomed to. Or, it could be we are still reeling from the hangover of what was, by all accounts, a dismal Saints and LSU season. Or perhaps, much like last year, we need that All-Star break shot in the arm to energize us for the home stretch of the regular season. What exactly are we missing? I would say its energy and effort, a popular Hornet theme of late. Regardless of what it is, it needs to come fast. I’ll say this much, our energy needs to be bigger and better than it was last year. It’s easy for us to expect the Hornets to be better than they were a season ago. Why then, is it so difficult to expect the same thing from ourselves? Like it or not, the home team feeds off the energy (or lack thereof) of their crowd. It’s about energy and effort… not just from the 14 guys in creole-blue, but from the 16,975 strong that fill the seats on a nightly basis. It’s time to bring it, and it starts with the guy I’m looking at in the mirror.