Business

Charlotte Hornets hope to cash in on more weekend games, LeBron James

Charlotte Hornets fans cheer before a playoff game against the Miami Heat in April.
Charlotte Hornets fans cheer before a playoff game against the Miami Heat in April. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte Hornets’ 2016-2017 schedule, released Thursday, includes perks like more weekend games that team executives say will provide a big boost to their already growing ticket base.

Higher attendance at certain high-profile games could also help offset some of the lost business from canceled shows at Time Warner Cable Arena because of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, the Hornets say.

Under an agreement with the city, the Hornets also book non-basketball performances at the arena. That part of the business has suffered as performers boycott the state over HB2, which limits protections for LGBT individuals. The cancellations, Hornets president Fred Whitfield has said, “have a direct impact on our ability to operate our business.”

This season’s schedule includes a total of 41 home games, 18 of which fall on a weekend night. That’s three more than the Hornets had last year, and weekend game attendance is always higher, especially on Saturday, said Pete Guelli, the Hornets’ chief sales and marketing officer.

“In Charlotte, the schedule really matters. I don’t think you can say that as much in some of the bigger markets,” said Guelli. “Things like opponent, day of the week or time of the year can have a significant impact on our business model.”

Last year, the Hornets had 13 sellouts and had an average attendance of 17,500 (out of a capacity for 19,000 in Time Warner Cable Arena.) Those figures are the most for both categories since the team came back to Charlotte in 2004.

Guelli said the more people pack into the arena, the better the crowds will be, and the better the team tends to perform.

Over 11,000 season tickets have been sold this year, putting the Hornets in the top five in the league for new season ticket sales, Guelli said. Of those, more than 2,000 are new season tickets sold (the remaining renewed from last year.)

That’s a far cry from the roughly 4,500 season tickets the team was selling in 2009, when Guelli joined the Hornets. The hope now is to get to 12,000-13,000 a year sold. That could mean a sold-out arena almost every home game, Whitfield said.

High-profile opponents are another way to boost home attendance.

One of those teams is last year’s NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom the Hornets play on New Year’s Eve this year. Whitfield says the Hornets haven’t had a New Years Eve home game for as long as he can remember.

The Hornets also have three nationally televised home games this year – ones against the San Antonio Spurs, the Golden State Warriors and the Indiana Pacers. The team didn’t have any last year, and Guelli says national TV is an even bigger crowd draw.

The team also has 16 back-to-back games this year, the fewest amount Whitfield said he can remember. Some years, the team has had as many as 22.

Too many back-to-back home games risks declining attendance because of “product fatigue,” Guelli said – in other words, people might only want to go to one game, not both.

Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, said crowds generated from Hornets home games have been a boon to uptown businesses like restaurants, bars and hotels since the team started playing at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“The creation of that arena and the way the team programs it both with basketball and other forms of entertainment has been a huge lift to our center city,” Smith said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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