Hornets owner: Sellouts key to staying in New Orleans

Updated: October 6, 2006, 7:16 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Selling out the New Orleans Arena for the six Hornets games this season is vital to keeping the NBA team in the city, owner George Shinn said Friday.

The fact that New Orleans has its first NFL sellout season since the Saints were formed in 1967 cannot predict anything for the city's six Hornets games this year, Shinn said after the team's fan appreciation day.

"I think it's wonderful what happened to the Saints. But it's not fair to put us in the same category," said Shinn.

Shinn said the Hornets have sold about 13,000 of the arena's 18,000 seats for the Nov. 5 home opener against Houston. Three weeks ago, no more than 7,000 seats had been sold, he said.

"I was really worried then. I feel a lot better now," Shinn said.

The team said more than 500 fans showed up for Friday's event. A number wore Hornets turquoise -- team jerseys and pants for men and boys, and dresses for women and girls. The crowd included about 100 children.

"We planned ahead. The boys did their homework," said Valerie May, there with her husband Robert and sons Nicholas, 13, and Jonathan, 10.

Shinn told fans the Hornets will be back for the 2007-08 season, which includes the 2008 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans.

The big question is, what happens after that?

Shinn said the Saints' 68,300 season-ticket sellout is "a great sign the community's willing to step up and support this market." But because NFL games are almost all on Sundays and so many NBA games are on weekdays, the Hornets have a much smaller sales market, he said.

Still, prospects are improving in New Orleans, Shinn said. The team sold every ticket last season in Oklahoma City where most home games were moved after Hurricane Katrina damaged the New Orleans Arena. Last year, two of the team's three games in New Orleans were sellouts and the third was close.

Depending on the game, 9,000 to 13,000 tickets have sold so far for the six contests in New Orleans.

"From our standpoint, obviously, it's important to get sponsorship deals put together and to continue to sell tickets and to sell out these games. That's really the critical thing. I don't want to have any of the games any less than what we had last year for the three games," Shinn said.

Shinn also said he is continuing talks with a group of potential local partners in the team's ownership.

"I am optimistic that something will be done in a short period of time," he said. "The last time I said two or three months. We're two months down. When you've got lawyers involved, everything slows down.

"I am confident everything will work out."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press