Business leaders want to keep Hornets

Updated: December 16, 2010, 7:25 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- A group calling itself the Hornets Business Council is raising money to buy Hornets' tickets and Thursday encouraged regional businesses and individuals to do the same.

Hornets majority owner George Shinn is selling the team to the league, which has sparked worries that the league will in turn sell it to someone who will move it from New Orleans.

"The Hornets franchise is important to economic development," said Michael Hecht, president of Greater New Orleans Inc. "The team is also important to our civic pride and quality of life."

The group has raised $250,000 in 48 hours to be used to purchase tickets and boost attendance at games. The Hornets have a clause in their lease at the New Orleans Arena that would allow them to leave after this season if average attendance spanning a two-year period falls below 14,735.

The Hornets must average close to 14,900 in attendance for the 11 home games before Jan. 31, to void the clause in the lease this year. Through 13 home games so far this season, the team's average is 13,629, said team spokesman Harold Kaufman.

The effort to boost ticket sales began last week when Gov. Bobby Jinidal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu solicited community support to pack the arena and support the team. The business group is continuing that effort, asking buyers that can't use the tickets themselves to donate them to nonprofits in the area.

"We challenge all businesses in the community to invest in the Hornets," said Gregory Rusovich, chairman of the Business Council of Greater New Orleans.

Jindal has said boosting attendance would help buy the state more time to work with the NBA on a long-term solution that would include not only a new ownership group but an amended lease and perhaps some state-paid improvements to the 11-year-old arena that could enlarge the team's revenue streams.

More than 50 businesses had joined the Hornets Business Council by Thursday, coming from not only the city but the surrounding parishes as well.

On Friday, Cox Sports Television, which broadcasts Hornets games, has scheduled a news conference to detail a long-awaited agreement with Charter Communications that will allow the games to be seen by tens of thousands of suburban cable subscribers north of Lake Pontchartrain. Residents in that area have been unable to see the Hornets on cable since the 2007-08 season.

The Hornets were responsible for $88 million in direct spending and $49 million in indirect spending in 2008, said Henry Coaxum of the New Orleans Business Alliance. He said they also pay almost $10 million in taxes, $8 million to the state and $1.8 million to the city.

"Nationally the impression of New Orleans is actually beginning to change and improve," Coaxum said. "Now is not the time to lose the Hornets and change this."

NBA Commissioner David Stern has said that the goal is to try first to identify buyers who could help the team stay in New Orleans, but public officials also have stressed the need to show community support for the Hornets.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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