Hornets exec to leave Charlotte for a role with the New York Giants

Hornets general manager on Kemba Walker’s free-agency

General manager Mitch Kupchak on Kemba Walker saying the chance to win more will factor heavily in his free agency decision.
Up Next
General manager Mitch Kupchak on Kemba Walker saying the chance to win more will factor heavily in his free agency decision.

Pete Guelli, the executive who oversaw the brand transition of Charlotte’s NBA team from the Bobcats back to the Hornets in 2014, is leaving the team for a job with the New York Giants. His last day as the Hornets’ chief operating officer is May 10.

Guelli was hired as the team’s chief marketing and sales officer in April 2009 and charged with boosting ticket sales. The season before Guelli started, the Bobcats, then owned by Bob Johnson, ranked 27th out of 30 NBA teams in attendance. The team had just under 5,000 season ticket holders at the time.

Nine years after Michael Jordan bought a majority stake in the team, the Hornets are now up to No. 23 in league attendance, according to ESPN. Season ticket sales have more than doubled, and now stand just under 11,000.

“It is hard to articulate what a challenging place the business was in when I got here,” Guelli told the Observer this week. “All business metrics were at the bottom of the NBA. Morale was low. That created an incredible opportunity for growth.”

Under Jordan, the marketing team led the rebranding of the local franchise from the Charlotte Bobcats back to the Hornets, signed its first-ever multimillion-dollar jersey patch deal with LendingTree in 2017, and last year, the team extended its TV deal with Fox Sports Southeast. Guelli was promoted to chief operating officer in March 2018.

His tenure has also been marked by the development of the Charlotte Hornets Foundation, the rebranding of the Spectrum Center (previously Time Warner Cable Arena) and the Hornets’ hosting of the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.

Rick Bonnell wraps up coverage of the 2019 NBA All-Star game hosted in Charlotte.

“Pete was instrumental in our efforts to make the arena a focal point for not only sports but also for entertainment in the Carolinas,” Hornets President Fred Whitfield told the Observer. “He’s been an integral part of helping us put together a group of teammates on the business side who worked together to grow every facet of our business.”

The move up to New York for an NFL job is like coming full circle for Guelli. Before coming to Charlotte, Guelli spent 11 years with the Buffalo Bills as senior vice president of business ventures.

Guelli said he grew up in a household full of Giants fans. He was approached by the team about a month ago about the position he’s taking, chief commercial officer, which he said is similar in nature to his COO role with the Hornets.

“It’s too big of an opportunity to pass up,” Guelli said. He added that Jordan, Whitfield and the rest of the team have all been “extremely supportive” since he arrived in Charlotte. “I could not have asked for better partners to help grow the business.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.