How to Get to 10,000 Season Tickets, Now and Forever

Published: September 10, 2011

The New Orleans Hornets are in the middle of a successful season ticket drive during what has the realistic potential to be the longest work stoppage in NBA history.

The goal is to have sold 10,000 full season tickets by the season’s eventual start. This number is of the rule-of-thumb sort that unambiguously, in the minds of the NBA owners, indicates strong fan support.

Season tickets are also a leg of the `stool’ that makes the NBA run, according to Commissioner Stern, the others being corporate support and government support. An arena clearly fits in there, but to me it’s the `top’ of the stool, as it requires all 3 legs to support it, and it has to be there and adequate to host a team . . . making the team . . . a potted plant? I don’t know. Stern does not have a gift for analogies, clearly. At any rate . . .

The Hornets have sold more than this total in a single season before: that following the most successful run in franchise history. The Dome was sold out on a season ticket basis for Saints games then, as it is today. Prices have gone up in both venues, but it seems to be an achievable goal even with the presence of a fiercely loved NFL team.

The Story So Far . . .

The Hornets started their most recent season with ~6,300 fulls sold. After their incredibly tumultuous and thrilling year, including a tank man kind of defiance of the Lakers in the playoffs, the total was at ~8,100.

Then the Hornets launched the I’m In campaign. The idea was to have season ticket holders host parties thrown by the Hornets for friends who have high potential to be season ticket holders, at least in part. They gave themselves 100 days to hold 100 events. At 20 tickets per event, they would achieve the goal six weeks before the season was to start. This would give time for an owner to declare an intention to buy the team and stabilize the franchise.

The plan was moving along swimmingly, but the long-expected lockout also occurred as anticipated. This did not derail the efforts, but the pace of ticket sales was halved. Now, as the 100th day approaches, the total is ~9,000, not 10,000.

This is quite an achievement, all things considered. Only the Clippers rival the Hornets in new full season ticket sales. Also, the sales clip hasn’t really slowed yet, so 10,000 season tickets could be reached around the new year if the parties continue to have the same effect. But what will happen if they lose their potency?

What’s Been Working?

Up to this point, the messages from the team have been of the Us vs. Them type. There are other aspects to their communication, image, etc., but this one seems to ring strongly in my cochlea.

When the NBA took over the team, the attendance benchmarks were pointed to very strongly. The message was that we need to beat the benchmarks and make sure they never bother us again. The tickets were sold, and the exit option was not available. The benchmarks remain in the lease, but they lose some of their power the closer the end of the lease draws.

When the Lakers were coming to town, we were expected to lose 2 home games after having lost 2 road games. Nevertheless, the tickets flew off the shelves, as did the LA vs. L.A. rhetoric. Phil Jackson did his part of the city in this regard, as well. Thanks, Phil. I’m positive someone bought season tickets at you.

When the season was over, I’m In equated supporting the team with supporting the city, its people, its culture, etc., If you love New Orleans, then you’ll support the team. The contrapositive of this is: If you don’t support the team, then you don’t love New Orleans. These are logically equivalent and sell tickets, as described above.

A possible implication of this last item is that you will hurt the city if you don’t support the team. This immediately invokes the specter of relocation, something that has never completely left the team that relocated here. After 3 years, they spent 2 years in Oklahoma City before returning to the city that held them only 1 year longer than their `temporary’ home. Now we’ve had them for 4 years, but we may not see the 5th season.

The Jazz were here for 5 seasons. The Buccaneers were here for 3. The Hornets have had a 3 year run and a 4 year run that may not grow to 5. We just can’t seem to get a streak going at all in the past 45 years.

Lasting support from the community can be built without a perfect effort, but without consistent habits being formed by fans, the endeavor may be a fool’s errand.

What’s next?

Considering all this, I propose the following strategy:

1) Keep doing what you are doing. Ride this pony as far it will go.
2) When things slow, go Costanza.

Since it’s been an Us vs. Them message veiling, or obscuring, threats, once the folks that sort of thing works on have been exhausted (see 1), change to the great defender.

Remove the fear.

As soon as possible, sign a new, long-term lease with Louisiana, and make that lease free of all benchmarks: attendance, revenue, and otherwise.

Here’s why you should do this, both of you.


Commit. You are asking others to do so, and they have done so. Your turn. Be a part of this community in name (important) and in dee . . . do what we do. No one Second Line’s the same way . . . don’t be nervous . . . just Second Line, baby!

Stabilize this situation. Start the good behavior now. Start fostering the long term-relationships now.

Show us that you will be IN the state. What sponsor wants to sign a 5-year sponsorship deal when your lease ends in 3 years. The first of those 3 may not have any basketball, and the last of those may be the final season if the deal isn’t done before then. Who wants to see an 8-year-old with a smile at the expense of an 11-year-old with a face that looks like a broken heart? Hmmm?

Go get the people who need you to put your best foot forward. You want their money? Do what they want. You already picked the other market segment clean. Sugar . . . vinegar . . . and their money spends the same.

Show every potential owner that when they are buying this team, that they are buying a New Orleans team. You want to keep the team here, prove it. Throw out a big anchor. A BIG anchor. That is your stated goal, after all.

Let the fans appreciate the interest in this team as a business rather than fear it. We need this team to be fun. We need to cleanse. We need to be eager, not anxious, for a new owner. We need to welcome them like a hero, not a suspected saboteur.

Get your practice facility. This is something you were promised that was never delivered. Then Mr. Shinn gave up on it to get the benchmarks that you say you don’t want anyway. So trade them back in for the facility. Let’s put up another parking garage if necessary, but stick a practice facility next to the arena if we can. A facility there can be used in conjunction with the Arena for All-Star activities.

Start focusing on the . . . what is it . . . oh, yeah . . . BASKETBALL. Do you want to talk about tickets or net-ripping alley-oops? I thought so.

State of Louisiana:

Stabilize the situation. This team will be well worth the investment you have made and will continue to make. Lock in that return on investment. Also, maximize your return on investment in the sports district being built up but putting more than 40 Hornets games smack in the middle of it each year.

Show every prospective owner that you believe in the NBA’s value to the community. You want a friend in the NBA? Show future owners that you believe in the NBA as a money-maker. This will add instant value to teams being flipped. By locking the team in New Orleans, the NBA may be leaving money on the table by reducing competition to purchase the team . . . put it back in their pockets this way.

Show each owner that you want them to be profitable by giving them a lease that lets them benefit from the commerce they help generate. If you allow a good business owner to reap a fair share from their efforts, or more, then you’ll attract a good owner. Maybe a great one.

Keep Louisiana and New Orleans in a favorable economic light. 40 markets in the U.S. (depending on what you count as a market) have at least one sports franchise. Big businesses look for cities with at least 2 major sports teams . . . among other things. Consider the following list: Portland, Sacramento, Columbus, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, San Antonio. New Orleans has a smaller tv market than all of them except Green Bay (and the citizens both own that team and support it in every way), yet has one more sports team than each of them. If you want to keep an edge on those cities on that list, then keep this team right here. 

We’ve done our parts. We’ve been a good fan base. We’ve been to the 10,000 full season ticket level before, we’re 90% of the way to the goal again, and we’ll get closer. Do a little something for us while we wrap that up, and maybe jumpstart it.

Best of luck getting to 10,000. If you have any trouble, or if not, please consider this. I think it’s a good idea. Maybe someone else does, too. Maybe you do.


Don’t use us as a pawn in these negotiations. Don’t toss our hearts around like they are toys, and don’t brandish them like weapons. Give them back, no strings attached.

You just don’t know what we’ve been through. You can’t. I’m not even talking about the storm or any of that. I’m talking about with the NBA. The constant taking and sense of loss and futility. What else do we have to do? Just say it, but it’s like matryoshka dolls . . .

We’re exhausted.

We’re frustrated.

We’re scared.

You can fix this.

You can thank us.

You can heal us.


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