The Hornets and Attendance

NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 27: A general view of the New Orleans Arena before the Milwaukee Bucks play the New Orleans Hornets on October 27 2010 in New Orleans Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Caleb briefly mentioned this in the morning links (or will have mentioned this, since I'm writing this into the future). But the Times-Pic's report on the Hornets' attendance this season is worth discussing again.

The basic details of what's unfolding:

  • The Hornets franchise extended its lease on New Orleans Arena through 2014 (in 2007)
  • That extension was signed, contingent on the fact that attendance would never drop below 14,735 per game over a two year period.
  • For the full season of 2009-2010 and the half-season ending on Wednesday, January 31st (the remaining one half-season is projected out from that time), the Hornets will fall below the minimum threshold unless they average 14,213 per game for the next 13 games.
  • Through eight games this year, the Hornets are averaging almost exactly that number- 14,214 is the average home attendance for this season.
There are a lot of really complex issues at play here. For one, the projection of half a season puzzles me. Why not see what the attendance actually is at the end of the year, instead of pretending it'll be the same as the last 1.5 year period? The Saints almost certainly play a role in deflating Hornet attendance totals through the first half of the season; why wouldn't the agreement take that into account? I won't point any fingers here, but it strikes me as an exceedingly strangely negotiated section of the team's exit clause. 
I understand that in order for a team to relocate, an application must be submitted the first of March. But again, that just plays into the "quick getaway" scenario more than anything. Again, I'll reiterate that I'm not predicting foul play here, nor am I suggesting that the team will be leaving the city any time soon. I'm just saying that these newly revealed terms of the exit clause are very, very interesting. 

In any case, if current attendance figures hold, the Hornets will likely battle to the finish to meet the benchmark attendance figure. If they don't get there? The franchise is free to seek relocation, provided they pay the state a $10 million exit fee. 

And that plays into the second thing that's impossible to project: Gary Chouest's potential takeover.

Let's say the takeover hasn't gone through by January. If George Shinn is as disconnected from the franchise as recent reports have led us to believe, how interested would he be in finding a new city to relocate to? And would Gary Chouest really purchase the Hornets if they left NOLA? It seems exceedingly likely that if Shinn is still the owner in March and if he wants to exercise his option to move the team, he'd have to begin the selling process anew. Sure, he could move to a large market with more potential buyers, but the odds aren't great. 

If Chouest is the owner and the benchmark isn't met, it seems equally unlikely that he'd move the team from his hometown and cough up an additional $10 million for the privilege. 

The doomsday scenario, of course, is if Shinn finds a different buyer now, who wouldn't be opposed to moving the team if the benchmark isn't met. Right now, that buyer simply doesn't exist. 

At the end of the day, it would be nice to see fans get out there and support a pretty decent Hornets team. Failing that, however unlikely it seems now, New Orleans could lose the Hornets. 
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