Hornets ready for negotiations

NEW ORLEANS -- The NBA's appointed governor of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets said Wednesday that he is nearly ready to begin negotiations with "a handful" of potential buyers who have expressed interest in purchasing the club and keeping it in Louisiana.

Jack Sperling, who was appointed by NBA commissioner David Stern to oversee the Hornets when the NBA bought the club last December, said the franchise has made substantial progress toward securing the revenue streams necessary to remain in New Orleans long-term.

"We have improved the financial situation of the team, and now we're getting ready to start to talk, to have serious dialogues ... with potential buyers," Sperling said Wednesday night while attending a social event aimed at boosting community support.

In June, the Hornets launched a 100-day series of social events, many of them intimate gatherings in the homes of season ticket-holders, aimed at attracting more local fan and business backing for the NBA team. The initiative has built the Hornets' full season ticket base to 9,007, Sperling said. The goal of the initiative was to hit 10,000 season tickets sold, so it will now continue beyond the initial 100-day period until the goal is met.

"We're focused on reaching 10,000 tickets and we're focused on trying to make the team more attractive for a local buyer," said Sperling, a New Orleans native and sports business attorney who has also served as vice chairman of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. "We don't believe we're going to fail. It's important for the city."

Once a little more progress has been made in terms of ticket sales, sponsorships and a new lease of the state-owned New Orleans Arena, Sperling said he will initiate serious negotiations with prospective buyers.

The Hornets have added two major sponsors this summer, bringing their total of sponsors with seven-figure commitments to five for the first time in club history. The Hornets have sold more new season tickets during the past 100 days than any other NBA team, Sperling said.

"That's a testimony to the fans in the city and how much they care about the Hornets and how much they care about the city," Sperling said. "They understand what's at stake here."

Recent gains in season ticket sales, which are now up from about 6,300 last season, have occurred during an NBA labor stoppage that has threatened to delay or possibly wipe out next season. While a new labor agreement, which is expected to make smaller market clubs more competitive, would likely enhance the prospects of selling the team, Sperling said the completion of a new labor deal is not a prerequisite to selling the club.

Sperling said he has had informal discussions with some potential buyers who live in Louisiana, as well as some who live elsewhere but are interested in keeping the team where it is.

"The potential buyers out there who I have talked to are aware of what's going on in New Orleans," Sperling said. "They're very impressed with what's happened here and they're very positive about it. So I like our chances."