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Monday, December 13, 2010

In which we don't talk about basketball

Posted By on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 12:14 PM

Coach Monty Williams gives instructions to David West in this stock photo

The Hornets lost to a lowly Philadelphia squad last night, but we're not here to talk about that. Instead, let's take a moment to parse through all the Hornets-related news from the past few days that has nothing to do with basketball.

Let's start with the news that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Governor Bobby Jindal are talking about ways to keep the Hornets in the Big Easy. Set aside for a moment the fact that the Bees don't pay income tax for playing in New Orleans and their state income tax is among the lowest in the country. Also forget the fact that Louisiana (and New Orleans) are experiencing epic budget shortfalls that have seen budgets slashed for all kinds of public services.

In order to stay in New Orleans, the NBA wants the State and the City to give the Hornets more financial incentives than they are currently receiving in order to attract a local buyer. If anyone thinks this is anything other than code-speak asking Louisiana to pay the Hornets in the manner that the Saints get paid is out of their mind. Whether through a direct subsidy or tax incentives, it will mean millions of dollars of taxpayer funds every year to keep an NBA franchise in the state.

Where you stand on the State using public money to keep a sports franchise from moving away, you have to factor in all the economics of the deal. The Hornets, for instance, spend over $20 million a year in operating expenses related to the New Orleans Arena, administration, and marketing. That is to say: $20 million goes to paying Hornets' staff, Arena personnel and marketing. That's money has pretty direct implications to the local economy. Add in the $74 million in player salaries (half of which are taxed to the State) and you can easily build the case that the Hornets need to stay.

On the other hand, the Hornets can be seen as a drain on the economy if it is given public incentive to stay in New Orleans. After all, when Chris Paul's contract expires in two years, there's no guaranteeing he will stay and this team will continue to have drawing power (let alone be competitive). Suddenly it's become a case of throwing good money after bad.

And then you have to look at the public perception of this franchise. Locally, the Hornets will never come close to competing with the Saints for attention and admiration. This isn't a surprise, seeing as how the NFL is the country's dominant sport, we're in the middle of football country and the Saints are defending Super Bowl Champions. But that the Hornets have failed to draw capacity crowds for a team off to its best start in history is enough to make people wonder if they Hornets should stay, incentives or not.

Fans, predictably, want to see the Hornets stick around; at least one group of fans is trying to organize a "Save Our Hornets Foundation". But the low attendance has writers from across the country questioning the need for a basketball franchise in a city that has continually failed to support more than one professional sports team. Also, when NPR is talking about the Hornets dire situation (and going as far as calling them "cursed') you know public perception of the team is pretty low.

So what does it all mean? Well, more and more the Hornets future seems tied with how the league works out its collective bargaining agreement, the impact of a possible lockout on the 2011-2012 season and whether Louisiana will give the Hornets what they want to stay. There's also Gary Chouest, who many people believe he'll be back to purchase the team as soon as the labor talks are settled.

Fans, for their part, have one option: going to the games. Not only will higher attendance make it more attractive for the team to stick around, it will provide great stories for the kiddies if the Hornets decide to move.

"When I was your age, New Orleans had a basketball team," you'll tell your grandchildren, who will likely not care and go back to watching the Saints win their 20th-straight Super Bowl.

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