Chalk Talk with Dell Demps

Published: November 18, 2010

Prior to the victory over the Trail Blazers at the New Orleans Arena on November 13, 2010, about 25 people, all season ticket holders or their guests, were invited to the inaugural Chalk Talk with Dell Demps. This is a benefit conferred by the Hornets to season ticket holders through the Lagniappe Program. There are many choices for how to spend the points, but this level of access colors a class of the rewards and is rare in the NBA.

We were led to a small room with an appropriate number of chairs in two groups facing a modest wooden podium. Harold Kaufman, VP of Communications and PR gave an introduction and explained that Dell would take questions after some opening remarks. No restrictions or stipulations were given.

Dell entered the room, walked up to the podium, paused, then casually walked in front of the podium, eschewing the mic. He started with a joke, saying that he wanted to let us know that he was considering stepping down as GM so he could have the highest winning percentage of any GM in NBA history.

Dell handled the crowd well and is a good speaker, communicator, and entertainer. Despite his genial manner, he was very businesslike. I do not mean he was cold, but rather he was speaking very objectively and matter-of-factly. He was not selling us on the team, the organization, or any `moves’. I felt it was a very rewarding experience, and many of my fellow attendees echoed the sentiment; I heard no dissenting opinions.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow account, I’ll group the information topically. My comments will be in parentheses when they can be confused with Dell’s.

Dell Demps’ Hornets Comments

  • About the Preseason: They expected to go 4-4 in preseason and tried to win the games, but their real goal was to figure out the starters and the rotation.
  • About Marcus: One decision going into the preseason was whether the starting shooting guard was going to be Marco or Marcus. Dell said quite clearly that Marcus has done nothing wrong. He did, however, expound indirectly about things he is not doing right, at least to the extent necessary. ((I got a mild paternal vibe from Dell here.))
  • About Defense: Non-negotiable. That is a quote. Defense is a non-negotiable for Monty Williams. Dell implied that there is at least one more, but it never came up. ((This was far and away the strongest sentiment of the night. The message was singular and powerful. This is not flap or hype or some rallying cry; this is the organizing principle of the team.))
  • About Preparing the Team for the New CBA, Trades, Free Agency: I explicitly asked him about how the Hornets are preparing for the new CBA. Dell gave background on this topic to make sure the audience understood the question, then made some observations — Many teams worked hard and sacrificed for this free agency period only to end up embarrassed and empty-handed. He does not want to have to chase players down or make bad deals for players. He wants to go after the sure thing and wants to have the power in the negotiation. He would go into the free agency market and chase players down before signing a bad deal with a player, however. ((To me, all this implies that the Hornets will stay in the trade market up to the trade deadline and will sacrifice flexibility going forward to land a desired player.))
  • About Preparing the Organization for the New CBA, Trades, Free Agency: They have hired a lawyer who is to study the Collective Bargaining Agreements for the 4 major US sports leagues: NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB. This lawyer is to be an expert on the matters going into 2011. This will help them understand the most likely changes, best case changes, worst case changes, etc.
  • About Peja: He has a role on this team. We will need him this season. ((These are both virtual quotes.))
  • About Contracts, Playing Time: A contract gets you in the door; performance gets you on the court. That’s it. ((This is a also a virtual quote. It sounds to me like Chris is the only untouchable.))
  • About the Arena, Crowd: The Spurs were very impressed with the atmosphere here in the 2008 playoffs. They were amazed at the energy and the passion. They felt we have one of the strongest, if not the strongest, home court advantages in the NBA when the crowd is at their best. The “Wooo!!!” was specifically cited as particularly impressive element.
  • About the Ownership Transfer: It is not complete, but it’s in “dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s” phase and that part takes more time than coming to the larger agreement. Both owners support him completely and he has yet to have a move he wanted to make meet with resistance on that front.
  • About George Shinn’s Health: George Shinn attended a couple preseason games and appears to be fine. This is based on his personal observations.  George emails him at all hours of the day, the inference being he’s not hobbled.  He does not know about his actual medical diagnoses or prognoses.

Dell Demps’ Other Comments

  • Demps played in many countries.  He calls that period of his life “The Journey.” Though not all of the accommodations were nice, his wife decided to stay in Venezuela when the practices shared space with a dance studio.
  • He loves it in New Orleans. He said he couldn’t help but have a good time in the city even if they were losing.

Crowd Comments

  • The crowd was vocal about broadcast issues. The Dish, DirecTV etc. stuff came up, as did the 65 game limit. None of this was addressed, but the team knows that a large portion of the sample was grumpy about the situation.
  • One fan noted demonstratively that he’d had a chance to see exactly 1 game on the Northshore.
  • Some fans were not aware that 106.7 FM carries the radio broadcast locally along with postgame shows.
  • Other fans were not aware that 88.9 FM carries the game broadcast (same as 106.7 FM etc.) during the game and without delay.
  • There were several comments about the fans themselves having the ability to grow the fan base by talking up the Hornets and engaging friends and coworkers to come to games, even giving tickets away to these folks so they may see what they are missing out on.
  • The crowd congratulated Dell and the team on its success.
  • Someone complimented Dell on the quality of his play from his on-court days.
  • I thanked Dell for choosing New Orleans over Phoenix. I mentioned that we often get overlooked unjustly, and those sorts of victories go a long way for us.

Other Notes

  • The session was scheduled to be 30 minutes, but it lasted about 45. Dell also took comments after the end of the session.
  • On the way back to the public area of the Arena, we passed Marcus walking between locker rooms. He was in typical practice gear, looked like he’d been working hard, and was grinning. He got a round of applause and cheers from the group and gave his trademark embarrassed grin.
  • I also saw Jerryd Bayless. He was busy chatting with someone from Portland and elicited no reaction from the crowd.
  • A rep mentioned he had 265 accounts. If each rep has this number, then there are 1,500 accounts. It’s reasonable to suspect this represents about 3,000 – 4,000 full season tickets. The current webpage has 7 folks labelled `Account Executives.’ A previous page shows 9 such folks. The inference is that the Hornets lost at least 1,000 season tickets from their peak sales, and this bears out as I seem to remember 10,000 “season tickets” with about half being full season plans. For simplicity, we can assume partial-season packages scale like full season ticket packages, and that they have decreased by the same amount. The newer page shows 16 more employees, in particular lots of “new business” and “group sales” folks. I asked a Hornets official about the differences and was told the new business folks were always there and the old page just needed to be updated. New Business is a more recent emphasis, however, and the basic conclusions here are correct. As noted, it’s hard to tell if there is more sponsorship, but there are certainly more sponsors involved and all the major players are still in place.


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