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Hornets’ Checkup

Published: August 12, 2011

In what has been a slow time for the New Orleans Hornets, I am happy to bring a boatload of fresh news. Tonight I was able to attend an I’m In event thanks to the courteous invitation of my rep (and Hornets247’s), Gena. What follows is an account of the event, summaries of the speeches and conversations, and Hornets news. More discussion on this article can be found at Hornets Report.

Hornets News

I’ll start with the punchline . . . to get to the other side!

Yeah, that never works.

Really though, here are the facts that I think most people will want to know. It’s mostly ticket stuff, of course.

  • About 8,750 Full Season Tickets have been sold before this event.
  • 11 tickets sold at the event along with a couple of leads, including one on at least 2 floor seats. (Our event at Joe’s landed 13 sales . . . Recognize)
  • This was event number 67. They have around 125 scheduled. It’s clear that the 100 events is not the limit. It’s not clear if 100 days is a limit, but I get the feeling that it’s not. Translation: We will not go gently.
  • Demps just got back from scouting in Europe. They have trips planned to scout on every continent (save Antarctica, but given that Argentina and Chile are tied to much of its populace, he’ll cover it by proxy).

More on the ticket sales: The LSED is kicking in for this stuff due to the little talked about revenue benchmarks; it gives the team a presence around town during the lockout, keeps the staff together, drives revenue, etc., so why not? If they work all 125 and keep up at this pace (5-10 full season tickets per party), they’ll crack 9,000 around the end of the month and reach 9,250. There is a feeling that once the number to reach gets under 1,000, that there will be an uptick in sales . . . a sort of `rounding-third’ effect, though that’s toeing the line of mixing metaphors.

Some miscellaneous facts that came up, though these are not news:

  • The Hornets season ticket holder count has gone from “just under 11,000”, to 8,300, to 6,300, and now to at least 8,750.
  • The Hornets support around 140 direct jobs and 2,000 indirect ones.
  • Hornets players were contractually bound to have at least 12 community appearances for charity and the like. None had less than 18 last season.
  • This year’s NBA Playoffs after round 1 had a 16 share, good for 5th in terms of market penetration behind, in no particular order: Dallas, Miami, Cleveland, and San Antonio.
  • The medical staff of the home team covers both team’s players in the preseason and regular season. In the playoffs, the medical staff travels with the road team, giving each team it’s own set of doctors.
  • Some of the food at these events is the same food they get on the team plane

Event Summary

Most of the I’m In events take place in a Season Ticket Holder’s home and the attendees are brought there through social ties. There are a few exceptional events, however. There have been five events (they call events “Influencers,” by the way) at the New Orleans Arena where the attendees are in a common industry. These five were: construction, oil and gas, financial, legal, and medical. This event was the medical one.

The three-part event, hosted by radio play-by-play voice of the Hornets, Sean Kelley, started at 6:30 and lasted 2.5 hours officially, and about 3 hours unofficially. This event, like the others in this family, are targeted at tickets suited for business use or the `Grey Poupon’ crowd.

The first part of the event was in the Capital One Club, a club in the Arena that floor patrons and some club ticket members (I think) are welcome to use as part of their experience. Bill Bailey, Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service, was the first speaker. The crowd was treated to drinks, chicken and sausage gumbo, and salad.

The second part of the event was in the North Club, and Dell Demps was the speaker. Dinner was provided here, buffet style: Carrots, garlic mashed potatoes, a few types of sushi, pulled pork, more of the gumbo, rolls and butter, and some pasta along with drinks. During this time folks sat with reps. Some walked around after enjoying the food and conversation to peruse seats.

The last structured part of the event was held in the bowl of the Arena. Monty Williams was the speaker. Following his speech, we had bread pudding and cookies while enjoying mingling.

It was a well-attended event with around 50 attendees by my rough count.

Bill Bailey

After some opening remarks and introducing the team’s doctor, Dr. Matthew McQueen, Bill Bailey brought the room up to speed on the Hornets current situation. I won’t belabor the obvious points, but there were some interesting bits.

Before we go too far down this road, let me make a couple of things clear. First, I am a healthy skeptic. Second, this is a sales event. So, while I’m reporting some of this as it happens, I did not dig deeply due to the circumstances (I’m a guest who was invited not to buy season tickets, but because of what we do here and general good behavior; they are working to sell tickets, and talking to me is not only a waste of their time, but also counter to my own goal: A TEAM HERE). Likewise, I did not take what was said with a grain de sel, as this forum isn’t one for subtleties and complexity. These questions will be dealt with later.

He went right into the NBA buying the team, only skimming over the Shinn and Chouest parts, focusing on the purchase by and partnership with the NBA, which he said was wonderful.

He then said they were busy looking for a local owner. I’m not sure how far in the past this was. I’m not sure who is looking. Nevertheless, it was said. Could we be treated to a CBA, sale to a local owner combo platter?

Bill brought up the benchmarks saying that nearing the season ticket sales goal s rendering them moot. This would be fine with them as they never wanted to take advantage of the option to leave even if it presented itself. He added that they would prefer to have no benchmarks in future leases.

He reiterated that the 10,000 season ticket goal is not a benchmark, but rather a standard the owners consider to be beyond reproach when evaluating the health of a market. While that alone does not make a market healthy, it eliminates questions about fan support.

The above was much the same as what Hugh went over at our I’m In event, but what follows was new.

They really emphasized the multiple uses for tickets. He described taking a client to a Hornets game as “golf on steroids,” adding that it’s the most cost-effective way to really reach clients. He also brought up using tickets as a donation to appropriate children’s charities for those people and businesses already giving to such charities. Finally, he emphasized the family time that having season tickets generates. This time can be more interactive and exciting that going to dinner, seeing a movie, or many other entertainment options.

At some point he mentioned their incentives for purchasing tickets tonight. They were heavily favoring purchasing lower bowl tickets.

Dell Demps

Following Sean’s second intro speech, complete with a bit about the benefits of floor and club seats, saying that our GM has brought a sense of “family with a purpose” to the organization, and a doctor joke, Dell Demps took the floor.

The very first thing he said after the greetings was that he loves New Orleans, talking about how chose New Orleans (over Phoenix, but he didn’t say that) in no small part due to the `fight’ and resilience he sees in the people here. If the dude was trying to play the crowd, this wasn’t the right way, as many of these folks were not native to Louisiana or the Gulf Coast. It could be habit, but I think this is legit.

Demps discussed his recent scouting overseas. He also scouts at games. He arrives about 2 hours early and walks around. He says he can never tell how his team is going to play by watching warmups, so he doesn’t try to predict. Rather, he tries to scout players on other teams, looking at their skills, work ethic, coachability, interactions with others, etc. The Hornets, and maybe many other organizations, put a premium on background. His figure was 70%: 70% of a scout’s time is spent on background. They talk to all coaches (high school, AAU, whatever). He said a player acquired as a throw-in in a trade last year was told not to report in part due to this type of research. (The only player this could be is Marcus Banks). This is where Dell told us about the Hornets’ community involvement.

Before taking questions and going into a story from his life, he made his pitch to the crowd. It was in two parts. First, he said that the crowd can influence games and gave examples. Second, he compared being at a game and watching it unfold to reading a book, saying that both are more satisfying than just looking up the score or reading the last page of a book.

The first question to him was one of the unanswerable variety. He added that his wife levied the additional incentive to walk the line by saying she’d match the fine in additional spending. When asked about the season, he said he’s an optimistic guy so he expects it all to work out. This led to a great story.

His story was quite intriguing. He prefaced this by saying, not for the first time in the time I’ve heard him speak, “Luck equals opportunity plus preparation.” This sticks out to me since it echoes a Louis Pasteur quote (in translation) I love, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

Between his Sophomore and Junior seasons in college, Dell would take his father’s car to the military installation to run, then shoot hoops, finally returning the car home so his dad could go to work.

One day he was approached by a near-frantic man asking him if he played basketball (yes), if he had his gear (yes), and told him to come inside. Inside were 7 Golden State Warriors, including Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway. This was before the days of `contact’ issues with college players, mind you. They were looking for an extra man so they could play / practice. As it turns out, Gregg Popovich had gotten in trouble for not making them play before, so he was desperate to find someone . . . that’s why HE went looking for someone, finding Dell.

After the losers of the argument had to take Dell on their team, he impressed them enough to at least merit guarding after he got hot.

He spent many days playing with them. He eventually got to be a`test dummy’ of sorts, being a guy they’d bring in to play 1-on-1 against possible draft selections, etc. He was eventually asked to try out for the team, but was cut. He was invited back after a year overseas and made the team.

This only started a meandering career playing basketball. Each summer, however, he worked on his Master’s in business. Upon retirement we worked for 2 years as an unpaid intern under Pop. This was followed by 2 years coaching in underleagues. He then transitioned to management, with his deliberate rise leading to his GM position with the Hornets.

Dell said he played Monty during one of the 1-on-1 sessions and won. Monty always says that Dell was fouling him. Dell said that was true.

Monty Williams

This was my first time hearing Monty . . . actually, Mont seems to be common address . . . speak pretty freely, and it was a treat. As a bit of lagniappe, a college buddy of Monty’s was at the event. His friend, Eric, was referenced later; it wasn’t just an alma mater thing. He meandered a bit, but I think that just made his points more strongly since he was so engaging that it all made sense at the time.

Monty said he enjoys meeting fans, and this seemed sincere. He stayed for a good while after his speech, for instance, taking pictures and talking with fans.

His first working of the crowd came when he said the crowd can make a big difference, citing Game 4 against the Lakers as a prime example.

He credited his staff with really helping the team turn around. Since the staff is so important, he wanted to take his time replacing Coach Malone. He wanted experience and he got that with Coach Hanners.

He then talked about how much he loves the city and that he bought a house here. He sees this job as a blessing.

This led to a story about his life. After his freshman year of college, his high school coach heard that he was bring considered as someone who could go pro after his sophomore year. Before this happened, however, he was determined to have a fatal heart condition, one symptom of which was a `gallop’ in his heartbeat. Over the next year he did many things to try to get back on the court, from praying to trying to get others to take his medical exams for him. He eventually held a press conference (which Eric saw) and became `just a student’.

Later, the NIH determined him to have the lowest possible low risk for heart issues: He was healed. From then on he considered each day with the game to be a blessing, was even more strongly a man of faith, and was studied by science . . . no one knows how he got healed to this day.

Back to basketball. Hornets basketball has been reformed and its hallmarks are defense, character, and hard work. He also credits Hugh’s vision for the team as part of the rapid reform. He was on a Spurs team that went 20-62, so he doesn’t want to lose and doesn’t want to be one and done in the playoffs. He pretty frankly told the crowd that he doesn’t mind taking advice from people around town. He’s often around town running errands when he’s off since he has 5 kids, all young. He understands the sense of `high school’ we have about sports here and loves it. (I think he means the deep love that manifests itself in a kind of familiarity rather than Benson’s `high school kids‘ proclamation after a loss to the Broncos (I was there . . . he was right)). He did ask that we leave him be when he’s eating or talking with his wife. I think that’s fair.

He feels the Hornets are ahead of the curve in terms of rebuilding, referencing his 20-62 Spurs and 21-61 Portland teams.

He then started another working of the crowed with his “Don’t Wait” story. He often tells players “Don’t wait” when he sees that they just aren’t ready to play. He said the vets get it when he says that, but other players do not.

What he means is don’t wait until we’re down 15 in the first before you decide you want to get your head into the game, then look over expecting him to call a 20. Nope.

He told us the same thing: Don’t wait. Don’t wait until we reach the second round, the finals, whatever to get In. At that point, it may be too late. He said this happened in Portland. He went from not being able to give tickets away to not being able to get tickets for people who wanted them.

His closing story was again about the crowd advantage. He spoke throughout the evening about the effect of away crowds and how it’s a `different story’ when the Arena is filled with excited fans. Other fans say `unrepeatable’ things that can eventually distract. Once, he had trouble keeping his glasses on at an away game. He improvised a solution by just adding some take to a key part of the glasses.

Later in the game, a fan was verbally running down Coach McMillan, so Monty tried to be a diversion and step between them. The fans said, “What are you looking at, Urkel?” Nate and the players heard it and it disrupted everything. He had to take the glasses off, the whole nine yards.

He wants us to distract the other team the way he was distracted.


In other conversations here or there, I picked up a few things that interested me.

  • I talked to a couple that was interested in floor seats, but they were wary of the 41 home games.
  • Another lady used her tickets for business purposes. She had such good results that she was looking to upgrade so she could give fewer away per client in some cases, but also reach those primo clients with primo seats.
  • A new rep got his first sale last night. 3 seats, lower corner B, I think. Congrats, Chris, and welcome to New Orleans.
  • The Clippers had some big event recently, moving approximately 100 tickets. This puts the Clippers in the lead solidly, at least for now, in their competition. The contest is to see who can add the most season tickets (so this is independent of initial positions).The winning crew gets to go to the other’s home floor and have a grand time during a game. The Hornets staff still feels confident of victory despite the recent Clippers push.
  • I spoke with a couple of very hard workers over a late meal who are excited about the flexibility the Hornets will have compared to recent seasons in terms of being able to shape their team.
  • The Hornets are lucky to have a doctor like Dr. Matthew McQueen.
  • I was amazed at how many folks remembered me, my name, etc. I even got an under-the-radar shout-out from Sean Kelley (looks like we’ve got some familiar faces out there tonight). I wasn’t even wearing my jersey!
  • These folks are working daily during their off-season, even during weekends, to sell tickets. When this is all said and done, go thank your rep. Write their boss a letter. Write Bill Bailey a letter. Write Hugh Weber a letter. Jac Sperling. David Stern. Write them all. Tell them to do something to let the world know who got the kitchen prepped for the Emeril-Lagasse-of-an-owner to walk in and BAM! us to a title. Somebody’s eyes watered to get that onion chopped, ya-hear?
  • Think Emeril will buy a piece of the team?


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