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Friday, January 25
 
Hornets 'excited' about New Orleans market

NEW ORLEANS -- As the Charlotte Hornets prepared to set up administrative offices in the Hibernia Bank building on Carondelet Street on Thursday, team officials said they could not yet estimate the success of a local drive to sell season tickets.

That drive is central to attempts at relocating the franchise to New Orleans, team officials have said, because it could convince league owners -- who must approve such a move -- that the city can support a franchise. Also, a clause in the agreement between city officials and the team allows either to back out before March 15 if New Orleanians do not purchase 8,000 season tickets, 2,450 club seats and 54 luxury suites.

Officials with the Hornets said that they were enthusiastic about the pace of sales to date, but that logistical difficulties and upcoming Mardi Gras and Super Bowl celebrations meant a firm number wouldn't become available until around Feb. 1.

In the 24 hours after the team announced its intention to relocate to New Orleans last week, a hot line received about 7,000 calls from area residents seeking tickets.

"We're very excited about the pace," said Alex Martins, who heads the Hornets' business operations in New Orleans. "There is a lot of momentum here and the phones continue to ring."

They will be ringing a different extension today, with the help of office equipment and furniture loaned to the team by area businesses, said Bill Hines, chairman of MetroVision, the regional economic development arm of the chamber of commerce.

Martins and the other five Hornets employees currently in New Orleans have been working out of the Superdome's administrative offices.

"One company provided the space and some office furniture, another provided computers, another provided a top-of-the-line fax machine," Hines said. "By (Friday), they should have a fully operational marketing unit off and running."

Along with selling tickets, that marketing unit must also help city and state officials convince a committee made up of NBA owners to recommend allowing the move. League rules require the approval of simple majority of the Board of Governors -- made up of owners or their representatives -- before a franchise can move.

NBA officials expect to release the names of those on the committee, which must include at least five members of the board, today or Monday.

Local politicians and businessmen involved in the city's bid for a team said they were buoyed in their efforts by comments from David Stern, the NBA commissioner, who publicly acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that the Hornets might need to relocate.

"It seems that in the absence of some groundswell that doesn't seem to be gathering, Charlotte and the NBA are going to suffer mutual losses," Stern said on the cable channel ESPNEWS.

On his weekly radio talk show Thursday, Gov. Foster said Stern's remarks provided an encouraging sign that the league will approve a relocation and defended the state's 10-year deal with the Hornets, which guarantees the team $2.5 million a year if ticket sales don't hit agreed-upon numbers and include using state construction money or surplus revenue to renovate the $110 million, publicly funded New Orleans Arena and expand the number of luxury boxes from 44 to 64.

"These big operations make money for the state, which can be used for other purposes, such as educational needs," Foster said. "That's why you chase them just like any other business."

Hines said that, right now, chasing the team means selling tickets.

"If we buy the tickets, we've got it," he said. "If we don't, then maybe we didn't want an NBA team as much as we thought we did."



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