Bobcats hope to cash in on picks
The Bobcats hope two Carolina players will be a hit with fans in the Charlotte area.
NEW YORK -- At 9:10 p.m., Raymond Felton was brought back to the main interview area for a photo opportunity called by NBA officials. His University of North Carolina teammate Sean May was just selected to be his professional teammate on the Charlotte Bobcats. With UNC head coach Roy Williams also on the dais, a picture of the triumvirate would no doubt be adorning the marketing materials of the Bobcats.
"I think people are probably calling in trying to get tickets right now, so hopefully it will help ticket sales go up a little bit," said May, who played three seasons with the Tar Heels, guiding them to the national title this past season and winning the Most Outstanding Player award.
In a draft short of marketable stars, filled with unknowns such as Martell Webster, Gerald Green and Yaroslav Korolev, the biggest business story that developed Tuesday night was the Bobcats selecting two of college basketball's most recognizable prospects who played their ball only 170 miles away.
"The town is buzzing, said Chris Weiller, Bobcats chief marketing officer. "Charlotte is a huge UNC town."
After the Bobcats selected May, Weiller said the phones started ringing and the team had employees at the phones ready to take the calls. According to the team, the two will be featured in ads together starting Thursday. The Bobcats have been using the tagline "get closer" and the copy with the Felton and May ads will say "Get closer to the national champs."
The Bobcats needed something like this. Last year, despite being a first-year expansion franchise, the team tied for the second-worst record in the league (18-64) and finished second to last in the league in attendance (14,431 fans per game). The addition of May and Felton is even bigger when considering that the team will be moving into their new arena this year.
It turned out to be a great couple hours for the franchise, who earlier in the day announced their decision to shut down their regional sports network C-SET after less than a year on the air. Unable to garner large enough distribution, the network -- an idea of Bobcats owner and BET Founder Bob Johnson -- floundered. Many of the network's employees reportedly will be laid off when the channel ceases programming on Thursday.
With the selection of Felton with their fifth pick and May at No. 13, the Bobcats became the first team to draft teammates since Arkansas' Todd Day and Lee Mayberry were selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1992.
"I think people are going to support me because it's close to my hometown (Latta, S.C.) and it's close to Chapel Hill," Felton said.
There's plenty of potential for fan growth in Charlotte, as evidenced by the fact that the Hornets led the league in attendance eight times from 1988 to 1997. Attendance then sharply declined, partly because the locals became disenchanted with the ownership, who eventually moved the team to New Orleans after the 2001-02 season.
Moments after May was selected, Williams told both of of his former players that he wanted season tickets for next year.
"I said I'd pay for them, but I wanted them to be very good seats," he said.
The most marketable player in the draft is said to be Marvin Williams, who played only one season at Chapel Hill. Sources tell ESPN.com that Williams is close to signing the most lucrative shoe deal of any of the draftees with Reebok.
But given the circumstances, Felton and May have the potential to do pretty well for themselves and the Bobcats.
Said May: "For Raymond and I, it's a huge opportunity. Especially coming from the background we have, playing at Carolina, it helps bring more of a face to a franchise that people will be able to support."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org