Attendence in New Orleans dropped sharply

NEW ORLEANS -- NBA officials are keeping close tabs on the New Orleans Hornets' declining attendance figures in light of revenue promises the team made when it was allowed to move here in 2002, a Hornets official said.

Officials involved in the team's move from Charlotte convinced the league that an NBA team could thrive in the mid-size market of New Orleans. After a major drop in attendance after the Hornets' second year, the league is eyeing ticket sales closely, said Jack Capella, Hornets' chief operating officer.

"We told the league that we were going to provide it with a certain amount of revenue from season tickets and sponsorships, and now we have to meet those commitments. The league is watching to make sure that we do," Capella said.

Deteriorating economic conditions caused the Hornets' average attendance to plunge to 28th in the 29-team league last season, Capella said. Nearly 1,000 season-ticket holders failed to honor
their contracts to buy seats in 2003-04, and attendance decreased by 5 percent.

In response, the franchise's marketing department has worked to help the city embrace the Hornets. The organization has run more TV and radio commercials targeting young people, and opened a network of regional sales offices aimed at fans from Biloxi, Miss., to Baton Rouge.

On Tuesday, the Hornets introduced a new promotion, slogan and flexible ticket packages designed to offer the chance to see the most anticipated matchups on the 2004-05 schedule.

"What we did this year was focus on the very best teams in the league," said John Lee, a Hornets senior vice president. "We're hoping fans will take notice and come out and support the team."

Included in one of this year's 10-game plans are home dates against nine playoff teams from a year ago, including Western Conference powers Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento and San Antonio. A
10-game weekend plan boasts Shaquille O'Neal's only appearance in New Orleans with his new team, the Miami Heat; the 15-game plan
includes a smattering of high-quality opponents.