Charlotte’s NBA team on Saturday plays its first playoff game in Time Warner Cable Arena as the new Hornets, and the team is hoping the home court advantage can turn the series around against the Miami Heat.
The first home playoff game in the first-round match-up is closing in on a sellout, the Hornets said, and the second game scheduled for Monday is not far behind.
The team, which regained its former Hornets name last season after a stint as the Bobcats, is working to boost the fan experience with T-shirt giveaways and other special touches. The home games are critical after the Hornets lost the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Miami.
Despite the opening losses, there seems to be more excitement about Saturday’s game compared with past playoff contests, said Will Webb, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation. The return of the Hornets brand and the timing of the first game on a weekend evening is likely helping, he said.
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“This is the first year in a while that I’ve had a number of people ...who didn’t use to talk about the Hornets now talking about the Hornets,” Webb said. “People are ... calling me looking for tickets.”
The franchise is banking on an extra-special fan experience Saturday night to help boost the team’s performance, said Pete Guelli, Hornets’ executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
▪ The Hornets are giving out black “Enter the Swarm” T-shirts and headbands to all attendees at Time Warner Cable Arena – a contrast to the “white-out” at Miami’s American Airlines Arena for the first two playoff games.
▪ Singing the national anthem will be Macey Timmerman, the 10-year-old who also performed at the regular-season home opener. That apparently set the right tone for the Hornets’ home season – the team went 30-11 in Charlotte, one of the best records in the Eastern Conference.
▪ The players, Guelli said, have said they like wearing the Buzz City pride jerseys this season, so they’ll be donning those on Saturday, too.
“We’ve been trying to create an environment that’s conducive to our team playing winning basketball. There’s nothing more important than that. We’ve been doing it all year, and we’re going to do it at another level for the playoffs,” Guelli said.
The franchise launched a special ad campaign especially for the playoffs to generate excitement for the games, team spokesman Josh Rosen said. The imagery – portions of the Hornets logo painted onto players’ faces – has popped up all over Charlotte ahead of the game in places such as newsstands, on the light rail and on billboards.
Fans can ride the light rail for free before and after the game with a game ticket, the Hornets said. Doors to the arena open 90 minutes before the game, which starts at 5:30. And halftime entertainment will feature Christian and Scooby from season nine of “America’s Got Talent,” the Hornets said.
“It was really important to everyone in the organization that this is about the fans, and the fans have an opportunity to have an impact on the game,” Guelli said.
The franchise also said it will use the playoff games to woo potential new sponsors for the 2016-2017 season. Currently, the Hornets have about 100 partners, Rosen said.
“We will be doing a lot of prospecting for sponsors,” he said, “with bringing people to games to see the excitement of the playoffs and hopefully get them involved.”
The Hornets continue their best-of-seven playoff series with Game 3 at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena and Game 4 at home on Monday, at a time to be determined. For Saturday’s game, single-game tickets start around $45 for upper-level seats and can be nearly $600 for lower-level seats, a search of Ticketmaster.com shows. Games 5 to 7 will be played, if needed.