Hornets and the BIG cutbacks

Bucking a global trend of rising prices and diminished value for a dollar, particularly in the sports industry, the New Orleans Hornets next season will reduce ticket prices across 81 percent of New Orleans Arena, a move aimed at increasing ticket sales and product satisfaction.

Team president Dennis Lauscha said the team has listened to the desires of its current and former ticket buyers and responded to what surveys indicated was fans' primary motivation behind purchasing tickets: value.

To that end, 13,598 of the seats in the arena, which currently has a capacity of 16,769, will go down in price for the 2013-14 season, the first with the new nickname of Pelicans, as the team continues to re-brand all aspects of the operation.

"Something we talk about a lot here," said Lauscha, who holds the same title with the New Orleans Saints, "is 'why do people buy season tickets?' It's really the foundation of what we look at and what we do. It's based on a number of surveys that are done in the NFL and NBA, really throughout all of sports, I presume.

"Consistently there are always three things that pop up to the top: you have to be priced right, the perception that the team is headed in the right direction, and thirdly fans have to like players, coaches and owners. What does that boil down to? Priced right; value, good product and good community citizen."

In an effort to have long-term sustainability in ticket sales, the Hornets/Pelicans next season will introduce pricing plans that will vary within sections, with season price reductions ranging from a high of $2,124 – a discount of 44 percent from the current price – to a low of $50.

Additionally, 3,748 seats will be reduced by 20 percent or more and there will be 2,162 seats available in the arena at $10 or less per game.

Ticket prices for suites will be announced at a later date.

Currently, the Hornets rank 29th in the 30-team NBA in per-game attendance, averaging 13,656 per game in the arena. The team has won just 19 games and lost 37, though guard Eric Gordon, has played just 20 games this season because of a recurring knee injury. Gordon didn't play his first game until Dec. 29 and the Hornets are 13-14 since Gordon returned to action.

Last season, the Hornets averaged 15,109 per game and finished with a 21-45 record in the lockout-shortened season.

Lauscha believes that the long-term stability of the franchise, ensured when Tom Benson purchased the club last April from the NBA for $338 million while signing an escape-proof lease through 2024 with no attendance benchmarks that could void the agreement, works in the team's favor when it comes to ticket sales.

"I'm not in anyway suggesting (long-term sustainability) wasn't the goal of the prior owner, the NBA, or the (George) Shinn organization," Lauscha said. "The challenges they had in the short term were 'If we don't hit X, something will happen.' That's not what we're going for here."

In an effort to boost ticket sales, the club is attempting to contact all former season ticket holders from the time of the Hornets' relocation in 2002 until now to gauge their interest in coming back, if their packages have lapsed.

The renewal push for current season ticket holders will begin in the coming days.

Because last year's franchise sale wasn't officially approved until sometime in June, it was impossible, Lauscha said, to implement changes in price structures since the renewal process had already been under way since late February or early March.

Ben Hales, the team's senior vice president of marketing and business development, said the hope is past ticket holders who might no longer buy season tickets will have their interest piqued by reverse sticker shock.

"We're not just sending out renewals to the people who have tickets now, we're going back three or four years, as far as we can go back," Hales said. "Realistically, if you sat in this seat three years ago it's (going to be) a reduction of what you paid then. It's kind of an invitation to go back to people, reintroduce ourselves to them in addition to all the other changes we're making.

"It's counter-intuitive in a way. We're doing what most teams don't do. We're renovating our arena, we're giving more options and we're reducing prices. We'll be able to show every one of these people that three years ago, you sat in this seat, this is what it costs now. You'll have an option. And we laid it out for (current holders) if you love this seat you have now, you're going to spend less for it. If you're comfortable spending the money that you are right now, and you want to move up, here are what your options are for that as well."

The basketball team hopes to tap into some of the Saints season ticket holders as cross-over customers, as well as Saints sponsors. Currently, Lauscha said, there's only a 28 percent crossover between the clubs, a figure the Hornets hope to increase thanks to the markdowns and other incentives.

With the NBA All-Star Game scheduled for the Arena in 2014, basketball season ticket holders will have the opportunity to acquire tickets to All-Star Weekend activities.

During the survey process the team used to acquire input from fans on arena renovations, which were unveiled last week, part of the questioning involved how to improve tickets sales and support.

"A big part of what we kept on hearing, over and over and over again," said Lauscha, "is that 'I'm priced out;' 'It's a little too expensive for me,' 'I can't afford to come.' "

Responses from former ticket holders, said Lauscha, was the same.

"The one thing that kept popping to the top was price, price, price, price. We said we had to do something to adjust price." (source New Orleans Times Picayune)