Charlotte Hornets

Hornets leadership: Name change made good business sense

There was little doubt among executives that bringing the Hornets back home would win over fans. But what top officials had to consider before they could resurrect the teal and purple was if the numbers would match the nostalgia.

“We wanted to make sure that we were making data-driven decisions,” said Pete Guelli, Hornets executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. “We did a tremendous amount of research.”

That research included gauging whether fans would buy the merchandise, respond well to a redesigned basketball court and still watch games on TV. The answer was yes. A study by an independent market research firm showed that “80-plus percent” of Charlotte Bobcats fans wanted to see Hugo back in the arena, said Fred Whitfield, Hornets president and chief operating officer.

More than 100 people assembled inside an auditorium at Queens University of Charlotte on Wednesday evening and listened as Whitfield, Guelli and team general manager Rich Cho discussed rebranding the city’s iconic basketball team.

Once New Orleans relinquished the Hornets name, executives began considering bringing the brand identity back to Charlotte. They took the idea to the National Basketball Association’s board of governors, which unanimously voted to relaunch the Hornets brand.

Then, the grunt work. New logo. New uniforms. New merchandise. New basketball court. And more than $4 million spent doing it. The process took about two years.

“We didn’t want to make decisions in a vacuum,” Guelli told the crowd. “Because we took the time to do the research upfront,” the results exceeded expectations.

“It was a complete identity system rebranding,” Whitfield said before the lecture. Nearly 80 executives were involved in the process, he said, working with the Nike and Jordan brands to bolster the Hornets’ “brand equity” in the community.

The team officially announced the Hornets’ return last December and unveiled a new logo that modernized Hugo, trading his cartoonish look for a sharper stinger, narrow eyes and sharper wings.

“That’s how we want our players to attack on the court,” Whitfield said.

A month later, the team rolled out merchandise and designs for uniforms. Once the season ended, the team redesigned the court in the Time Warner Cable Arena.

“Every metric we measure our business by – ticket sales, sponsorships, web traffic, social media – has been positively affected by the rebranding,” Guelli said.

That includes 3,500 new season tickets sold this year and five game merchandising records broken within the first month of the redesign’s announcement.

The team still owns the retro Hornets brand, Whitfield said, marketing it under their “legacy line” and selling it alongside the new merchandise.

“The players are excited,” Cho said. “The name change, the colors, the logo, the court, the uniforms. You can feel the excitement when they’re talking about it.”