The Charlotte Hornets, who play their first regular-season game under their new name next week, say they’ve attracted more new season ticket holders than any NBA team except one.
Only the Cleveland Cavaliers, which signed hometown superstar LeBron James this summer, surpassed the Hornets in selling new full-season tickets, said Peter Guelli, Hornets executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.
The Hornets also beat their own season ticket record. Counting partial plans and renewals, the team says it sold the equivalent of 10,000 season tickets – reaching that number for the first time since it started play as the Charlotte Bobcats a decade ago. That compares with 6,000 season tickets when Michael Jordan bought the team in 2010.
“There are a lot of people who were quiet Bobcats fans,” said Brendan O’Hara, 24. Now, they’re re-emerging in Hornets gear.
O’Hara, a Charlotte native living in Charleston, plans to attend at least 15 home games. He’s started supplementing his collection of Bobcats jerseys with the Hornets’ purple and teal.
Changing names and colors will typically cause a team’s merchandise sales to spike for a year, said Ira Mayer, president of EPM Communications, a New York research firm that tracks sports consumer trends. But the hype will level out one day, he said.
“The biggest factor is, do you have a winning team or do you have a player who is a real standout that’s going to drive merchandise sales overall?” he said.
The Hornets launched in Charlotte in 1988, and then-owner George Shinn moved the franchise to New Orleans in 2002. Two years later, the NBA added the Bobcats franchise in Charlotte.
Since executives mounted the $4 million Hornets rebranding last year, merchandise sales for the team have increased by 77 percent. The Hornets also have added 30 new corporate sponsors, including McDonald’s, Mercedes-Benz and Food Lion.
The price for Hornets tickets saw a “minimal increase” with single-ticket costs ranging from $1,000 for premium seats between the players’ bench and score table to as little as $10 for seats in the upper deck, said team President Fred Whitfield.
The team uses a “dynamic pricing” system to assign constantly varying prices to different seats in the arena. As with airline tickets, prices can vary by the hour based on supply and demand. As of Friday afternoon, a ticket to Wednesday’s season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks in upper-level seating ranged from $43 to $118, not including additional fees and taxes.
Typically, season/ ticket holders, Whitfield said, receive “the lowest average ticket price per game for a season.” The Hornets, he said, still have the 28th lowest average ticket price of 30 teams in the NBA. A study by NerdWallet, a consumer research website, shows that the median resale, or scalping, price for Hornets tickets increased by 27 percent since last year, from $119 to nearly $152.
When the Hornets name was first in Charlotte, it led the NBA in game attendance for eight consecutive years. Last season, the Bobcats averaged fewer than 16,000 fans a game, placing them at No. 25 on the NBA’s attendance record.
But amid the excitement over the name change, Guelli said, “we anticipate attendance overall to be up sharply this year.”
A lot of that has to do with the “minor miracle” of New Orleans relinquishing rights to the Hornets name, the team’s surprise winning season last year and signing on players, such as Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson, he said.
Harsh Mody, a software developer, hopes to attend every game. A seasonticket holder, Mody, 23, of Charlotte paid a little under $2,000 for two choice seats at each of the 41 home games.
“I love basketball a lot, and after I got a job, I decided why not get season tickets to go to the games,” he said. “And, with the Big Al (Jefferson) signing, I figured it was the perfect time to get tickets.”
Hoping for a swarm
The old Hornets played in the now-demolished Charlotte Coliseum, but the new Hornets will play in the Time Warner Cable Arena uptown.
City leaders in September approved spending $33.5 million over the next 10 years to make improvements to the arena, in a 9-2 vote. Supporters said using the city’s contract with the team required the improvements. Opponents said the cost was too high.
Around the arena, restaurant managers are hoping the beginning of Hornets season brings in more customers and profits.
“We see more Hornets gear in our restaurant,” said Chris Conklin, who manages the Aria Tuscan Grill, which is less than a half-mile north of the arena. “I do know that since we are so close to the arena, we all do get nice foot traffic during home games. I know we are looking forward to this upcoming season.”
Ryan Lockhart, manager of Cosmos Cafe on North College Street, said the restaurant offers VIP service to athletes. Should a Hornets player visit one night, Lockhart expects a mob of fans to follow.
“People follow people,” he said. “Now that they’ve ... rebranded themselves with re-establishing themselves as the Hornets, it kind of makes them relevant again. No one really embraced the Bobcats.”