Broadcasting Still a Major Concern for the Hornets

Published: November 1, 2010

It is remarkably difficult to watch the New Orleans Hornets road games on TV if you live in New Orleans or the surrounding area. For those who don’t have to deal with the inadequacies of COX as a cable provider, local blackout rules, or the complex puzzle that is required in figuring out how to watch every game on TV, this might not make a whole lot of sense. For many others though, it will surely strike home.

The Hornets put forth so much effort and consideration into building and maintaining a fan base in the community through local events, camps and parties, which makes it all the more surprising that for so many years they have allowed cable providers to slow their growth in the local market.

Before we begin I want to express my deep admiration for Cox Sports Television’s staff in the New Orleans Arena. Everybody I have met has been fantastic, and the broadcast is overall an exceptional experience.

That said, there are some issues that exist on the business side of thing which will only prove a burden as the franchise tries to move forward. These issues incontrovertibly slow the growth of the local fan base, creating hurdles where none should exist for hundreds of thousands of potential season ticket holders, merchandise consumers, and fans.

Problem one: The Northshore Issue

If you live across Lake Pontchartrain, you can’t watch the Hornets on cable television. This simple disagreement over a fair price has nagged on for nearly a decade now, and cuts a huge percentage of 250,000 potential fans out of the financial equation for the Hornets.

Two years ago, executives from the Hornets told two city councils that the Northshore market is critical to ensure their long term viability in New Orleans, and having games televised there will help to sell tickets.

“TV, and the promotion of those (ticket) plans allow casual fans to realize that they can come to a game and it’s not a 41 game commitment,” said Hornets President Hugh Weber.

There is a lot to say about this issue, but most of it can be inferred from the following; 250,000 people who live within a short drive of the Arena are unable to watch games through their sole cable provider.

The kicker? St. Tammany Parish (The Northshore) is the wealthiest in Louisiana, with a per capita GDP 30% higher than that of Orleans Parish. Can anyone say disposable income?

Solution: Force COX Sports and Charter Communications to agree to enter binding arbitration that results with the Hornets being televised in St. Tammany Parish. Otherwise take away both of their monopolies municipal franchise rights, and let them duke it out for customers the hard way.

Problem Two: Who Dat Broadcast all the Games?

There are 15 games this year that COX sports and national TV don’t cover. In order to watch those all 82 games this year, a local fan would have a to purchase a combination of the NBA TV, NBA League Pass and COX cable/Dish.

For obvious reasons the local fan base should be given every opportunity to follow the team, and what better way to get them involved than to give them the opportunity to watch all the games?

Solution: If COX Sports has exclusive broadcast rights, then make sure that they provide coverage of every game unavailable on national TV.

Problem three: 249 channels for the price of one?

What if you live in New Orleans and you want to watch the Hornets games, but don’t want the other 55,000 shopping, religious, foreign language, music, and news channels? What if you, like so many others, have realized that almost every single network show worth watching is available legally through Hulu and the network websites, so really all you need is an internet subscription to see whatever you want with less commercials? Well, that and a 10 dollar HDMI cable for your laptop.

Tough luck.

Oddly enough, it’s those who live outside of New Orleans who get to watch nearly every Hornets game for the price of NBA League Pass. It’s blacked out for locals not just in New Orleans, but for every NBA market.

Solutions: Stop blacking out NBA League Pass for locals, or at least for those who purchase ticket plans. This is contractual problem at the moment.

Problem four: DirecTV doesn’t carry COX Sports, and COX doesn’t have NFL Sunday Ticket

New Orleans is football watching town, and although there is clearly room for two sports, NFL Sunday Ticket reigns supreme. It’s just awesome, and combined with Red Zone is about the best thing going in football broadcasting. Since only DirecTV carries this, sports fans in New Orleans have to choose between watching every NFL game through DirecTV, or most of the Hornets games through COX.

Solution: Stop blacking out NBA League Pass for locals, or force COX Sports to get a deal done with DirecTV. Again, this is a contract issue currently.

Problem five: High definition isn’t always available

Watching a game that isn’t in high definition feels like watching a VHS tape from the 1980’s. It’s 2010, so COX needs to get with the program and offer high definition broadcasts for every game they broadcast. High definition is a substantial upgrade in sports viewing for some fans, especially among the younger crowd and those more likely to splurge on tickets or merchandise. Even on a big TV in standard definition, it’s sometimes hard to tell who the players are. Provide fans who desire high definition with a higher quality viewing experience and they are going to enjoy it more, virtually assuring that they stay tuned in the future.

I realize none of this is going to happen and that the financial implications and contract renegotiation for my solutions are far more complicated than I make them out to be, but the fact of the matter is that in a small market like New Orleans, the Hornets need access to all possible fans. Last year cable subscriptions went down across America, and with the availability of shows online and the economy being less than stellar, there is no rational reason to believe that the trend is going to change.

The reality is that you can find free illegal streams online for every NBA, NFL, and MLB game. This isn’t something that is going to decrease in availability, either. Actually, illegal streaming has become a huge problem for the NFL and MLB (especially with the World Series not being shown to millions of people in NYC). Their attempts to combat it have been failing thus far, and as people realize more and more that there are alternatives to packaged cable, they will turn away from the stone age cable companies. Apple and Google are both making big pushes to get into the market, and if their success in other fields are any indication, their splash might be more of a tsunami. Is COX Sports going to play ball with Google, knowing full well that many of the subscribers of their parent company will inevitably switch to Google TV one day, or will they simply set the price too high for Hornets broadcasts?

In medicine, preventative care is much cheaper than curative or palliative care, and that same principal came be applied to the problems the Hornets face in their local market. It’s in the Hornets best interest to combat these issues before they snowball into something bigger and harder to cure.

Small market clubs like the Hornets rely more on ticket sales to earn a profit than the big market teams do. With a new, young team, led by a rookie head coach and one of the best players in the game, the time is now to increase their local television viewership, overall fan base, and consequently their attendance. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the broadcasting will be opened up to the Northshore cable audience. The odds of season ticket holders being given an exemption from the blackout of NBA League Pass are even slimmer.

While there is no doubt that COX Sports has offered the Hornets the best offer in terms of yearly monetary compensation, one must wonder whether or not the Hornets are shooting themselves in the foot a bit by accepting the deal without assurances that the games will be broadcast to a greater percentage of the local population. By allowing a bunch of television executives, more concerned with their own quarterly profits than the long term viability of the Hornets franchise, to dictate who receives game broadcasts, the Hornets risk their having their already small market shrink even more.


  1. 42

    November 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm


    Good article.

    Charter has been a blight on the Northshore for the 15 years I’ve been conscious of such matters. Cox did a reorg last year (I think) that would better position them to serve the Northshore in the event that Charter collapses (so say I; it could have been done for other reasons, but they want the market for the reasons you mention other than the Hornets).

    Why Charter is allowed to exist on the Northshore given their complete lackluster service (no NFL network either!) is beyond me. People rarely get outraged in the same direction at the same time to produce a shift and that is sad.

    The Dish Network deal came when the Hornets were doing well in 2007-2008 (yeah?) and doing well this year could galvanize the mob beat on DirecTv and Charter to inch this along.

    Yeah, Dish Network has CST for those who want to vote with their dollar.

  2. 42

    November 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Oh, and Mr. Chouest just may have a trick up his sleeve to get something done. You don’t get to be a billionaire by taking crap from multi-millionaire execs. That B carries some weight. Keep in mind a modest billionaire makes in a day what a milti-millionaire makes in a year in most cases. That is some serious, serious imbalance in negotiating posture.

    Since Mr. Chouest won’t be playing with the rent money like Mr. Shinn, he can employ different tactics, as well.

    Carry that weight a long time, Mr. Chouest.

  3. JCS

    November 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    As fan, I have put my faith and money in this team and would greatly appreciate hearing local announcers for home games on League Pass as well high definition.

    • Stefan

      November 1, 2010 at 11:10 pm

      Thank you! I’m sick of hearing other announcers pronounce “New Orleans” incorrectly.

  4. Joe P

    November 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    The League Pass thing is the most frustrating for me. I don’t have a TV, so when I have a night off, I go to the bar (or the Arena). I’d love to pay for grocery beers, watch on my computer, and not inhale smoke. I got the league pass brodband thing two years ago, and while I loved the quantity of hoops, I really missed seeing my local team. Does Lost Love Lounge have Cox? Marie’s does, and at least one bartender likes hoops.

    • Joe Gerrity

      November 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm

      CST is the only reason I can think of to pay for cable at this point in my life. If they had a 20 dollar a month option for high definition CST I would pay for it in a second.

      I also bought league pass two years ago when I had DirecTV, ignorant of the fact that the Hornets games would be blacked out. I purchased it again this year to watch other games, but the disappointment I feel when leaving my house to watch the Hornets play an away game is a constant thorn in my side. There were a few instances last year where I had to write recaps from a bar stool.

      Fortunately Ryan and Michael are doing all the away games this year.

  5. TheDonors

    November 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I live on the Northshore and I just happened to choose Dish Network over DirecTV and Charter Cable. Lucky for me, I made that choice just before the 2007-08 season started, not even knowing that CST was about to be added to the Dish Network lineup, so I am one of the lucky few out on this side of the lake who gets to watch the games. It’s a travesty that what is basically a New Orleans suburb doesn’t get Hornets games. I know people out here who spend money on Hornets tickets several times a year and who are robbed of the ability to watch the games when they’re at home. My brother had League Pass on DirecTV, expecting to watch Hornets games, and they were all blacked out. League Pass should not be blacked out. If you live in a city where there is no NBA team, they get every game for the same price that my brother was paying. If they’re going to cut 82 games out of a League Pass package, shouldn’t there be a price difference? All I can do is tell everyone I know that if they choose Dish Network, they get Hornets games. Plus, Dish Network’s DVR is so much more user friendly that DirecTV’s anyway. Not that I’m trying to promote Dish for any reason other than Hornets games, but my parents have DirecTV and I just think Dish is better, Hornets or no Hornets. It’s just another one of those things that we seem to always have to deal with in the New Orleans area. This type of inadequate arrangement would never happen in an NBA city where they intend to keep a team. Let’s hope that this problem gets solved. The Northshore should be able to see how well the team is playing right now. It would do the team nothing but good.

  6. MaxALM

    November 1, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    It’s nothing short of stubborn that Cox does this. I didn’t actually know that you couldn’t watch Hornets games on League Pass if you are in New Orleans. I tried to watch something on and it was blacked out, and now I know why. That’s just ridiculous.

    Could you please send this to Cox cable, Joe? I feel like we as a public can have SOME influence on this issue.

  7. ChrisTrewdotCom

    November 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    This is huge. I agree. What can we do? Petition?

  8. Joe Gerrity

    November 1, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    It’s not just COX. I believe that every team has their NBA league pass blacked out in their local area.

    Cox sports, and the companies similar to them are private enterprises who have one interest- Making lots of cash. What they are doing may very well be a good long term plan for the company, but it’s the team who I think is getting the short end of the stick on this one. Long term it’s hard to definitively say if the Hornets stands to gain more financially from Cox Sport’s strategy, but I’m on the side that they don’t.

    A counter argument could be that charging what seem to above market prices for CST, and getting them, they are actually increasing the value of the Hornets brand.

    Additionally, if somehow St. Tammany Parish removed Charter’s rights to the area (which has been brought up by councilman) over this long standing dispute, then Cox would have effectively utilized CST and the Hornets to gain access to a parish full of potential customers. Cha ching.

    So yeah, Cox doesn’t care what I think.

    The more I think about it, the more I am in favor of giving non-blacked out league pass options to season ticket holders, and even partial ticket plans. Commercials included.

  9. OkiJeff

    November 1, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Get a VPN connection to another country. Purchase International League Pass. Watch all the games.

  10. TopherPrice

    November 1, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    I am too tired to respond to this. I will post a journal in reply as a good bit of your stuff is off-base Joe. You have quite a few facts wrong. I will elaborate after I get some sleep as I spend an hour writing a response in a journal to have the browser close and all was lost. I am not retyping it tonight.

    Thing number 1. CST is owned by COX but can not be influenced by hem or they would have the regulators all over them. CST operates for one reason, to make CST money. If they don’t make their goals long enough, Papa Cox Communications will pull the plug. But the conspiracy theories are best left to those with JFK obsessions.

    As frustrating as the situation is with the lack of full coverage, not all games in HD, and even the St. Tammany situation, all the blame lies with the Hornets organization for not forcing CST to do what they want. There are others who would jump at the chance to do what CST does with the Hornets and if they would work that angle they might get some movement. I think the, “good enough” days are numbered in the Hornets organization if the sale goes through, so I would think the very basic, “Do what we say now or you will not be our Official Channel later” will come down the ‘pike soon.

    P.S. St. Tammany will never pull a franchise over one sports channel. They would be mired in legal battles until the end of days over that situation. They could choose not to renew it when the time comes, but that is hardball they are not going to play as it is a dispute between two private parties, CST and Charter.

    • Joe Gerrity

      November 2, 2010 at 2:52 pm

      a bit confused what I am so off on in the article. Perhaps I imply that Cox communications is managing cox sports a bit more than they actually are, but other than that I really don’t see what you mean.

      It’s not really a conspiracy theory to say that CST if charging way over market value to DirecTV and Charter, considering neither has budged in years and years now, while CST is on Cox without problem. Do you think that CST overcharges COX, too?

      My comment on the St. Tammany situation was based on transcripts from a 2008 city council meeting in which a board member brought up taking away municipal cable franchise rights. Do I really think that would be the sole reason they lowould not renew in the future? Of course not, but from what I’ve heard this is not the only Charter complaint from the other side of the river.

      • TopherPrice

        November 2, 2010 at 7:29 pm

        The Journal/Novel explaining my deeper points is up.

  11. slick watts

    November 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Here in St Martin Parish,Cox isn’t available so my only choice is Directv. CST not carried and NBA League pass blacks out the Hornets. So even though I’m three hours away from Nawlins I still can’t watch the broadcasts.

    • Joe Gerrity

      November 2, 2010 at 4:37 pm

      try Dish TV. Not sure if they will broadcast cst where you are, but it’s a possibility.

  12. Mikey

    November 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

    In the words of Grand Moff Tarkin: “This bickering is pointless!”

    Unfortunately there isn’t much the Hornets, as an organization, can do about this problem, other than bitch like we are doing here. About the only thing they can do is oust COX as their broadcast partner and bring on someone else that will already have an agreement in place to broadcast the games all over the local area. Here’s the big problem with that; COX is also the Hornets’ #1 corporate sponsor, so of course they aren’t gonna do that. Hell, without support from COX Communications, the Hornets don’t even move to New Orleans in the 1st place. The best thing the Hornets can do is, when its time to renew their contract with COX, negotiate a DIRECTV package. Attempting to “force” another corporation, who happens to be your #1 supporter, to do your bidding will get you nowhere.

    The Hornets are not the only team in this predicament. I can’t remember the exact team, but I recall another THN member blog site complaining about this very same problem about team coverage in their local area.

    I’m just glad I don’t get paid to come up with these solutions.

  13. Kyle

    November 2, 2010 at 9:07 am

    The NBA should really look into this. I did the free trial for League Pass only to find that the Hornets games (which were for the most part the only ones I really would be willing to pay for) were blacked out, so the trial just backfired for them. Before that, I was unaware that there were blackouts since I thought the whole point was so that you could watch EVERY game.

  14. Diane

    November 2, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Wow!! What a timely article. I was a cry baby here in OKC when I found out that our local CST (which was advertised in the newspaper) was going to carry the Hornets game. Well is didn’t carry it and it was blacked out on league pass also. All the way to OKC (and found out Tulsa also). I’m really wondering if they will black it out on NBA TV when the Hornet play on it? (I know they do The Thunder that way) For crying out loud I can just jump in my car and go to The Hornets game in New Orleans. I guess the only way I will see The Hornets play is to go to the game when they are here in OKC. It’s a lousy deal.

  15. hewhorocks

    November 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Dish network also doesnt have baseball so I have direct TV. The whole situation is a terrible example of poor business management. The Hornets are allowed to place a corporate sponsor’s interests above those of the league and their own long-term development. League contraction is a buzz word going around and you want to know which teams are in jeopardy? Those small market teams whose games cant be seen by their local fan-base.

    I hear Seattle is looking for a team.

  16. Stefan

    November 2, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    “Seattle Hornets” just doesn’t do it for me.

    • 42

      November 2, 2010 at 7:59 pm

      A team moving to Seattle could become the Sonics, actually.

  17. Icebird

    November 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Here’s a bit of info on the sports coverage situation here in New Zealand, just for comparison purpsoses.

    In New Zealand, the 800 pound gorilla in sports broadcasting is Sky Television, the satellite television provider. They don’t have a lot of competition – cable is only available in a few places in the country and TelstraClear takes most of its programming from Sky anyway.

    Unlike in the US, the sports channels aren’t part of the standard package – we have to pay around $15 a month extra just to get the sports channels on top of the standard channels. (For that we get three sports channels, a highlights channel and ESPN, and during events like the Olympics they throw up extra channels).

    That premium pricing means they can outbid the free-to-air television channels for just about any sport they want to. If you don’t pay the Sky fees, you’re limited to minor sports, highlights or tape-delayed coverage on Sky’s free-to-air channel. In other words: great if you can afford it, you’re screwed if you can’t.

    • TopherPrice

      November 2, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      If you read my journal I touch on who owns both Direct TV and Dish network. Can you guess the parent company of Sky Television as well?

    • TopherPrice

      November 2, 2010 at 7:36 pm

      Sorry, was confusing the government owned SkyTV with Sky broadcasting which is owned partially by News Corp. My bizzy bad.

    • OkiJeff

      November 2, 2010 at 8:47 pm

      Drop sat/cable altogether. Use Hulu/Netflix to watch TV and buy ILP from the NBA. Watch all the games with no black outs. Cable cost is $60 a month or $720 a year. This method will cost <$200 and price a cheap computer with HDMI if you don't have one. I use a Mac Mini.

      • TopherPrice

        November 2, 2010 at 9:18 pm

        as everyone has stated, all local games that are not provided by CST are blacked out on League pass, that doesn’t work for NOLA based fans.

      • 42

        November 2, 2010 at 9:28 pm

        ILP is international league pass, I think. The LP folks don’t want you to use proxies, but using an out of USA proxy to get into the ILP would avoid the blackouts. This is, of course, a no-no. There seems to be nothing stopping anyone, however.

        I’ve watched the non-CST games at places such as Fox and Hound in Elmwood (loud music and disinterested patrons, so I’m looking for another place), but it’s not totally blacked out locally . . . just for the working stiffs.

        Those nachos that I can barely order because Ne-Yo’s `beats’ are caving in my skull like only Slayer should cost more than 1/15 of League Pass, don’t they? Yeah, I thought so. I see your game. I getcha. Tool.

  18. tyler

    November 2, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Please read the journal “Where do we stand” and leave a comment

  19. Jib

    November 2, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I just have to know… What is the purpose of blacking out the games for nola (among other cities)? I don’t see what they’re accomplishing. I thought maybe it was so more local people buy tickets more, but just thinking about that seems highly illogical, so if I’m missing something or there is an answer, I’d be happy to hear.

  20. 42

    November 3, 2010 at 6:34 am

    NBA blackout rules seem to have a different structure than NFL rules. The NFL basically says “If someone can buy a pair of tickets at the stadium, then no one local can watch that game or any other at home at that time.” This is based on ticket sales. It potentially costs the league millions in tv dollars at the expense of thousands of ticket dollars, but they are the behemoth and may have great reasons for it. Every game is on a big network, or NFL Network, except exhibitions.

    The NBA has many more games, most of which are on a minor network thay gets mostly exclusive rights to the local distribution. NBA negotiated national braodcasts trump them. NBA blackout rules protect that local exclusivity. If ypu want the game, go to the arena or go to network x. NBA teams put on a show amd get money from network x to be allowed high privilege of broafcasting it. Network X, which is in theory good at this in a way NBA teams are not, try to make more than they pay out in getting the games onto tv screens with ads.

    All this combined with limited choices for some (e.g. no dishes in my neighbirhood) make for a complex game.

  21. PrepP

    November 3, 2010 at 11:31 am

    It’s not just New Orleans that doesn’t get to watch the games. This issue has driven me nuts the last 3 seasons as I have tried every option to watch the hornets games on TV. THE FACT IS THERE IS NO OPTION FOR ME. I am willing to pay. I am willing to switch cable/satellite providers. I just want to watch the damn games.

    A lil back story……. I live in Gulfport, MS. Found out a few years ago that Dish network was offering CST in their lineup. So I switched to them after they said I could get that channel. I was happy at the time until they came and hooked it all up and I was NOT able to get the channel. I was not in the 90 mile radius that this channel is available too. WELL F U DISH !! This was the one channel i switched for. So i cancelled immediately. Did some testing of my own with some FTA equipment and found out that I AM ABLE TO RECEIVE THE CHANNEL SIGNAL YET BECAUSE MY ZIPCODE SAYS IM NOT IN THAT 90 MILE RADIUS THAT THE RECIEVER WILL NOT DISPLAY IT AS AN AVAILABLE CHANNEL.

    So yes I would be able to get the channel and so would others in my area. but whatever agreement they have screws fans like me who are just outside that 90 mile dish network radius, within the 300 mile blackout radius of league pass and not able to get cox cable . So what can i do? watch crappy illegal streams which i happily do bc there is NO OTHER OPTION. IT IS UTTERLY RIDICULOUS! SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE AND THIS ISSUE SHOULD BE BROUGHT TO THE ATTENTION OF THE HORNETS ORG.

  22. hewhorocks

    November 3, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Im a season ticket holder and cant watch away games because I have Direct TV. Away Games! OK so buy the League pass? Nope they are blacked out! Hmm League pass broad band? Nope! So essentially I ex the dish and go Sans Baseball sans NFL etc. Or Get an IP Mask and goes international Broadband league pass. Quick question Hornets. What are the chances of a typical sports fan in New Orleans (NFL -first) flicking stations and catching a Hornets game and seeing the team and becoming a supporter? Not very likely.

    • TheDonors

      November 3, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      First, why would you not be able to watch NFL on Dish? Baseball, no, but I have Dish in St. Tammany Parish and I get any football game that is broadcast regularly, NFL Network included.
      Second, I think that if casual or non-fans at least had access to CST, there IS a chance that they could become converted devotees to the holy game of basketball. Any kind of house party or social gathering may put a game on if there isn’t anything else going on. That’s what my family would do at parties at our house, etc. If the extended family was over, my dad would put on anything he could find, football games, basketball games, etc. Besides that, people at home who can’t find anything to watch with the kind of bulls*** programming now might watch a game out of boredom, or because somebody they know is a fan and get hooked in that way. The more converts the better. It’s good for the Hornets and it’s good for the NBA as a whole.

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