Hornets game in Paris is a big opportunity for Charlotte business growth. Here’s why.

Charlotte economic development leaders will make a play for European business next year, when recruiters and former Charlotte Hornets players accompany the NBA team in France.

The Hornets fly to France for a Jan. 24 game against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first-ever NBA regular-season game played in Paris. Hornets President Fred Whitfield says he and owner Michael Jordan have been lobbying the NBA to add international play to Charlotte’s game schedule.

And Charlotte business leaders say it’s an opportunity to showcase the city.

The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance announced Monday the organization will partner with the Hornets to publicize the Charlotte area in Europe during the game. Specific marketing plans were not provided Monday but officials with the alliance said there could be a international business recruitment event, similar to a town hall, held in Paris next year.

Charlotte recruiters will be meeting with companies, “telling them the great news, the great gospel that is the Charlotte region,” says Marvin Price, vice president of business recruitment for the alliance.

Janet LaBar, president of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, said it means a lot to have “the muscle of the Hornets” behind the partnership.

Whitfield added, “It’s just an unbelievable opportunity for us to be able to have a few hundred companies that are based across Europe, come and learn more about not only our team, but what a great place we have in Charlotte and our region.”

The business group on Monday cited Charlotte hosting this year’s NBA All-Star Game. The game brought $48.7 million in direct spending to the area, with an economic impact totaling $87.7 million, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

LaBar said the NBA All-Star Game in February was a great “domestic commercial” for the area, and the Paris game next year could be a similar opportunity for Charlotte — this time on an international scale.

A global stage

It’s not the first time the Hornets have played internationally.

The Hornets played in the NBA Global Games in China in 2015. And the 1994 Hornets played a preseason exhibition game in Paris against the Golden State Warriors.

The 2015 game strengthened the team’s brand abroad, said Eileen Cai, vice president of Charlotte Regional Business Alliance‘s recruitment in Asia.

“When Michael Jordan showed up during the game, the crowd just went nuts,” Cai said.

And rising international profile is good for business, she said. Seven years ago, there were five Chinese-owned businesses in the Charlotte area, Cai said. Now there are 57.

The business alliance hopes the Hornets’ game in Paris could help draw French-owned businesses to the area. Currently, there are 60 French-owned businesses in the Charlotte region. The area is also home to more than 200 German-owned businesses and 121 companies from the United Kingdom.

Foreign investment can raise an entire region’s profile, says Price, with the alliance.

“We’re going to be on a global stage,” Price said Monday. “Everyone’s going to want to be at that game.”

International ties

The Hornets were an obvious candidate for the Paris game, based on their connections to French basketball. Nic Batum is a Frenchman who has been a starter for the Hornets most of his four seasons in Charlotte. Batum has been a mainstay of the French men’s national team, which just won a bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup in China.

When the Hornets announced the Paris game in March, the team had an even bigger French draw in point guard Tony Parker, a former NBA most valuable player from Parker’s championship seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Parker announced his retirement from basketball this summer, but it seems likely he’d be in Paris for this game.

The biggest attraction to this game in Europe is Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The forward from Greece was voted the NBA’s most valuable player last season.

The game at AccorHotels Arena in Paris counts as one of the Hornets’ 41 “home” games this season, so the team will be bringing dozens of game-operations staff to France to run the event.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on aviation and health care. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.