NEW ORLEANS -- The state likely will have to pay the Hornets about $7 million in subsidies which kick in whenever the team does not meet certain annual revenue benchmarks, but the NBA franchise also is working productively with political leaders toward the goal of remaining in New Orleans, Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
The governor mentioned the anticipated subsidy payment after discussing his role in a new marketing effort designed to strengthen the Hornets' season ticket base and secure the club's future in New Orleans.
"We do expect to be making a payment to the team under the current contract that's fully funded," Jindal said. "Certainly, if we see the results of this campaign, we'd be in a better position."
Jindal is among several other high-ranking politicians and local celebrities who are promoting the Hornets' "I'm in" marketing campaign. The effort has been joined by Saints quarterback Drew Brees; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter; married political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin; Archbishop Gregory Aymond; jazz trumpeters Kermit Ruffins and Jeremy Davenport; and Cajun fiddler Amanda Shaw.
The multimedia campaign, which will be seen on television and on billboards in the metropolitan area, highlights the Hornets' role in the region's recovery from Hurricane Katrina and asks fans to see their NBA franchise as not just a basketball team but a community asset that enhances the city's global profile.
The Hornets currently are owned by the NBA, which bought the team last December with the intent of improving its financial footing and then reselling it. NBA commissioner David Stern, as well as the man he appointed to be the league's caretaker of the club -- Jac Sperling -- have said all along that the hope is to find a buyer who will not move the club.
Sperling, a New Orleans native with a distinguished career as a sports attorney, said the significance of the extent to which high-ranking state and city officials are collaborating with the team is unusual and a further sign of the club's intentions. The team's effort to upgrade with trades during this season was another such indication of the team's commitment to the region, Sperling said.
"It's easy to say, 'They're leaving,' ... but the commissioner didn't sell it to somebody for relocation. He hired me and he knew what I was going to try to do," Sperling said. "I'm doing what he asked me to do, and that's to try to make it attractive to a local buyer. And then, even the last few trades -- these are not signs of a team that's thinking about trying to relocate. These are signs we're trying to invest here.
"The subtle note of us working with [political leaders] is a very telling one as well," Sperling said. "We want it to work."
The goal of the marketing campaign is to rebuild the season ticket base above 10,000, where it was in the 2008-09 season. That would make it easier to surpass attendance benchmarks and thereby void an escape clause in their current lease of the New Orleans Arena, which runs through 2014. The attendance benchmark of 14,735 per game, which is calculated at the end of January, was narrowly met this season, ensuring the team would be here at least through 2011-12.
Jindal said the Hornets have yet to put any pressure on state leaders regarding a new lease that might include additional subsidies, but he said dialogue has been ongoing and productive.
"My sense is Jac is very sincere and wants to find a way to keep the team here," Jindal said. "We met the [attendance] benchmarks and they gave us some additional time. The fact that they're so aggressively marketing toward season ticket holders shows they're looking for a way to keep this team here for the long term, not just for the next season."