Local News

Hornets File With NBA To Move To New Orleans

Posted January 18, 2002 6:17 a.m. EST

— Signs outside the Louisiana Superdome are already advertising tickets to New Orleans Hornets games.

``We've accepted New Orleans' offer, they've accepted ours, the deal is done,'' Hornets co-owner Ray Wooldridge said Thursday.

But before the Hornets' 10-year lease on the New Orleans Arena can be completed, the NBA and state legislature must approve the deal, and residents must buy at least 10,500 tickets and 54 luxury suites by March 15.

Within five hours of the announcement of the planned move, the Superdome received more than 2,000 ticket inquiries, spokesman Bill Curl said.

The Hornets filed an application for the move with the league on Thursday. The relocation has to be approved by 15 of the 29 NBA owners, who have 10 days to appoint a committee to study the proposal.

The committee would then have up to 120 days to issue a recommendation, and the league's Board of Governors would have 30 days to vote.

``Our preference would be for the team to stay in Charlotte in a beautiful new arena, but the reality is that may not be possible,'' NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. He hopes the vote will take place by late April.

Wooldridge dismissed reports of a move in Charlotte to purchase the team and ask the NBA to keep it in North Carolina. He said the Hornets are not for sale.

The agreement can be nullified by the Hornets if they don't sell 8,000 general seating tickets, 2,450 club seats, and 54 luxury suites by March 15.

``If those are sold by that date, they can't get out of the deal and wouldn't want to,'' said Bill Hines, president of MetroVision, a New Orleans development organization. ``I think the real problem is going to be people complaining about not being able to get good seats.''

Even as city and state officials announced the agreement with the Hornets, signs in the New Orleans Arena, where the team would play, and outside the adjacent Superdome, flashed information on purchasing tickets.

``Our marketing staff is here and they're here to stay,'' Wooldridge said.

Charlotte voters turned down referendums for a new publicly funded arena, and Wooldridge and his partner, George Shinn, said they had no choice but to move the team.

``We spent 2-1/2 years and a great deal of money trying to resolve problems in Charlotte - personal money,'' Wooldridge said. ``We are losing incredible amounts of money. That was our commitment, we stayed, we asked for a decision. We even paid $400,000 for city expenses. They gave us their decision. I don't understand what they think I don't understand about 'No.' I understand. The answer was 'No.' Fine, we're off and doing what we're doing.''

The Hornets lost $12 million last year and will lose $25 million this year, Wooldridge said. He expects to reverse that trend in New Orleans, which is smaller and has a lower average income than Charlotte.

It is the city's third attempt to land an NBA team since 1979, when the Jazz moved to Utah. The NBA blocked an attempt to bring the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans in 1994, and the city made a major effort last year to land the Vancouver Grizzlies, who moved to Memphis instead.

Louisiana Senate president John Hainkel predicted success with legislative approval of the deal.

The Louisiana agreement calls for a 10-year lease, with the team paying $2 million annual rent and receiving all the revenue from premium seating, advertising, naming rights, concessions, novelties and parking.

The rent is subject to adjustment if attendance is under 11,000 a game - but will not drop to less than $1 million.

The state will provide $8 million to $10 million in improvements to the arena by October, and an additional $5 million by October 2004. The first phase includes adding locker rooms, luxury suites, the team store, team offices and upgrades to the club lounges and concession areas.

The city also agreed to advance the funds for a permanent practice facility, estimated to cost $6.5 million.