In April 2012 the New Orleans Pelicans (then-Hornets) were purchased by Tom Benson from the NBA for a reported $338 million. The next month lottery luck smiled on the Crescent City. Anthony Davis was the next big thing in the league and headed to New Orleans with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. A massive new television deal for the NBA has dramatically increased the value of franchises around the league.
Forbes estimates the Pelicans at $650 million which is both good and bad. Good, in the sense that Mr. Benson has seen an impressive return on his investment in less than 44 months -- over 92% in some quick and dirty math. After running in the red for three consecutive years (2010, 2011, and 2012), the Pelicans have posted a steadily increasing operating income; up to $19.7 million according to Forbes estimates for 2016. That the franchise is making money and doing so more efficiently over the first four years under Benson's leadership is a step in the right direction after years of poor financial management under George Shinn. Good stuff!
Now for the bad. At $650 million, the Pelicans rank dead last in the entire league. Joining the Pelicans at the bottom of the heap (and the standings this season) are the Milwaukee Bucks ($675 million), Philadelphia 76ers ($700 million), and Minnesota Timberwolves ($720 million). The Pelicans do sit about league average in reported home attendance (in terms of percentage of the arena "full") this season. On the other end of the spectrum, they reside in the smallest market in the entire league.
Does this bode poorly for the franchise? I don't believe so.
The organization is making money through operations, and Mr. Benson has stated that his goal is the legacy of keeping this team in New Orleans. The rebranding of the franchise to the Pelicans has been seen as hokey outside this state, but that bird means something to people in Louisiana. There is a clear attempt to brand this team as local from top to bottom. The arena is sponsored by Smoothie King which was founded in Louisiana. Other primary sponsors such as Entergy (3-point Power Shot!) and Ochsner (the beloved and far too frequent injury report) are also local companies.
The franchise might be the lowest valued among its competitors, but it is healthy financially and making money for the owner. Now to work on the winning part...