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Top Ten Moments of Season: #3 - Hornets Meet Attendance Benchmark

 Back in the 2007/2008 season, the Hornets returned full time to the city of New Orleans and were greeted with a lukewarm reception in the arena on a nightly basis until the team continuously impressed on the court.  As they did, the crowds increased and the environment in the arena was terrific.  But the early lack of a reception put doubt into people's minds about the Hornets long term success in New Orleans.   In addition to having to compete on the court, the city of New Orleans was basically challenged to compete for the right to keep the team in New Orleans.  Following that 2008 season, the Hornets organization reached a new lease agreement with the New Orleans Arena that was unprecedented for its time.  The Hornets and the state of Louisiana reached a two year extension on the lease to the New Orleans Arena to keep the team there until 2014.  But there were options in the lease that would allow the Hornets to opt out and possibly relocate.  The Hornets fans were challenged to support the Hornets and they responded by meeting the attendance benchmark, which is why that comes in as the number three moment in our top ten countdown.

The particulars of the lease agreement between the Hornets and the city of New Orleans are very confusing.  When the Hornets relocated from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002, they signed a ten year lease agreement with the New Orleans Arena venue.  Because of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City for two seasons, before returning full time in 2007/2008.  Attendance was never great numerically even before the storm and, in fact, the Hornets ranked last in attendance in the year before the temporary move to OKC.  But instead of finding ways to improve the team's attendance numbers, they had to leave for two years.  When they returned, there was an open commitment to the city of New Orleans but plenty of fans were turned off by the flirtation between Shinn and Oklahoma City officials about possibly keeping the team there.  Also, sadly, a great number of people were displaced by Katrina and businesses were forced to temporarily relocate as well.  Entire neighborhoods were blocked off, some houses were uninhabitable and the city was still slowly recovering.  As a result, the Hornets barely edged out a profit for that 2008 season.  But in a sign of goodwill, the team signed the two year extension on the lease to keep the team there until 2014; a way to give back two of those years that were lost playing in Oklahoma City's Ford Center.

But the aforementioned skepticism allowed for the entry of opt-out clauses in that lease.  It's tricky to give teams open attendance numbers to meet because it keeps the owners from ever having to commit fully to their current location.  If I could interject my own personal opinion in here, it basically gives owners a cop out by saying "well we did what we could but you didn't" and giving them the opportunity to openly flirt with other locations.  That doesn't necessarily provide a recipe to fans for long term commitment.  The Hornets were required to draw 14,735 fans, the team's average attendance in the three years before the storm, from December 1st of 2007 through the 2008/2009 season.  After doing so, the Hornets would have to continue meeting that number every two years or they'd be able to negotiate or terminate their lease.

Fast forward to 2009/2010, and things were tough for the Hornets.  The Saints were enjoying a multitude of success and had taken the city by storm while the Hornets, mired in mediocrity, saw injuries to key contributors like Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic ruin any chance of being competitive in the season.  As a result, the promising attendance numbers of 08-09 immediately dropped and sometimes the arena would be half empty for games against non-marquee opponents.  In the offseason, Chris Paul's reported trade demand strained the franchises and its relationship with the city more, as he represented the Hornets best chance to be competitive.  And the best way to draw in fans is to be successful. 

The numbers to start this year were disheartening, in a way, before Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal rallied the troops (figure of speech).  He encouraged the local businesses to buy up scores of tickets, challenged the fans to meet the benchmark, and stressed the importance of giving the team more time to reinvent itself in the city of New Orleans.  And the city responded.  Behind an inspired winning streak by the team and the calls by the Governor, the Hornets met the benchmark in a home game against Oklahoma City on January 24th of 2011.  It didn't put the Hornets entirely in the clear nor did it solve all of the issues with the team.  But as Governor Jindal said, it gave the state of Louisiana and the franchise itself time to work out the nuances and particulars of the team while guaranteeing the Hornets stabilization in the city.  And because of that, meeting the attendance benchmark clocks in as the number three moment in the top ten for the season.