Any Charlotte Hornets fan from the days of Alonzo Mourning, Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues will likely recall the plastic “Starting Lineup” figurine of each star, toys as ubiquitous to pro and college sports as trading cards and Starter Jackets.
The Hornets are bringing back 7,500 of the little figurines Friday night in a fan giveaway – a promotion intended to appeal to fans’ sense of nostalgia, but also to fill even more seats at the Spectrum Center, where the Charlotte Hornets will play the Chicago Bulls at 7 p.m.
Last year, the Hornets hosted a Nickelodeon-themed ’90s night in March when the Hornets played the Phoenix Suns. The night included ’90s music and appearances by Nickelodeon hosts. It was one of the “most successful promotional nights” at the uptown arena, said Pete Guelli, the team’s chief marketing and sales officer.
“We started thinking about other out-of-the-box opportunities that could bring the nostalgia back and create some interest in coming out for a game not just for the customers we have, but also to create some new customers,” Guelli said.
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The Charlotte Hornets’ first big fan giveaway this season was white T-shirts by Tykes, the local design firm that also made a custom warm-up shirt for Cam Newton. That November game against the New York Knicks was a sellout, and the Hornets are hoping that their next big promotion will help sell out another three games this season.
Friday’s Starting Lineup figurine is Nic Batum, the Hornets said. The next giveaways are Feb. 11 against the Los Angeles Clippers (with a Kemba Walker figurine giveaway), and March 11 against the New Orleans Pelicans (with a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist figurine). The only other pro team to give out Starting Lineup figurines, the Hornets say, are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with one of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Experts say thoughtfully planned promotions can help boost attendance at a time when fan attention spans are getting harder to hold.
But for that kind of thing to work, it has to be well thought-out, said David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall Sports Business Institute. The sense of nostalgia – Starting Lineup figurines were launched in 1988 and were distributed through 2001 – can be capitalized on.
“The nostalgia factor is very important, but it has to be done authentically. Teams can’t just roll out alternative jerseys or throwback jerseys or every week or two retire the number of some marginal player,” Carter said.
Ultimately the goal with such promotions is to fill the building, and there are multiple aspects to that, Guelli said.
“From a revenue standpoint, (we want to) drive ticket sales as aggressively as we can. But we’re also focused on creating the right environment for our team. It goes hand in hand. If we have a building that is active and engaged, we know the team is going to perform better,” Guelli said.
A push to fill Spectrum Center also comes at a time when entertainers have been pulling shows over opposition to North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2. The damage to the state’s reputation from the bill has made other prospective acts wary of coming.
But Guelli said the recent promotions are a separate effort.
“Our marketing strategies relative to the team side of our business evolve each year and focus specifically on our customers. That will always be the primary consideration,” Guelli said.
The average price of a ticket to the Hornets’ Friday matchup against the Chicago Bulls is $133.91, and the lowest price to get in the doors is $41, according to TicketIQ, which tracks 90 percent of the nation's secondary ticket market. Friday’s game is the fifth most expensive remaining game in Charlotte this season, TicketIQ says.