Hugh Weber Rumors
Prospective owners from other cities were circling, looking to snatch away the Hornets. The NBA was on the verge of a lockout. The league didn’t want to run the team long. They needed a local buyer and yet none seemed willing. Interest in the Hornets was low. Local fans figured the NBA was as good as gone. Something had to change fast or even Stern wouldn’t be able to keep the Hornets there. “I was operating under the assumption that if the plan didn’t work the team would move,” Jac Sperling, the sports executive recruited by the NBA to run the Hornets, told The Vertical. “Everyone on our staff thought that, too.”
The Hornets had sold just 6,300 season tickets the season before, a number well below the 10,000 that is considered the industry standard for franchise stability. Sperling and Weber quickly realized that after negotiating a new lease and cutting a better television deal, they had to find a way to sell 3,700 more season tickets. If they could do that they were sure the league would see New Orleans was viable and perhaps it could find a local owner.
That’s when they thought of the house parties. The concept of sales events are not new in sports. They are usually called “influencers” and have proven effective at creating a bond between team executives and potential season-ticket buyers. Often teams hold these in sterile settings like hotel meeting rooms. But what if instead of meeting rooms the Hornets held influencers at people’s homes? “The idea was to get into people’s homes face-to-face and convince them that the team was going to stay,” Sperling said. He imagined people gathered on a big New Orleans porch, drinks in hand, talking about the city. It was perfect, he thought. Someone suggested holding 100 parties on 100 nights, a round number they thought would generate enthusiasm. Everyone agreed that sounded right. With a lockout coming it wasn’t like they had anything else to do.
Finally, on Dec. 8, the day the lockout ended, the team and Mitch Landrieu, the mayor at the time, held a news conference to say the Hornets had sold 10,019 season tickets. A goal that once seemed impossible had been met. “The city of New Orleans came together and sent a message to the NBA that we’re in,” Landrieu said that afternoon.
The New Orleans Hornets, who formally came under the domain of owner Tom Benson on Friday, will not retain president Hugh Weber, the man who helped guide the team through 17 months of league ownership and helped steer the franchise toward Benson’s purchase and its stability through 2024 with a renegotiated lease agreement.
The league office apparently approved a four-year contract extension for Gordon in the neighborhood of $50 million. By rejecting that, and waiting to become a restricted free agent at season’s end, Gordon can solicit four-year offers from other teams that will likely be higher or he could sign a five-year extension with the Hornets for closer to maximum money. “I think the facts are with Eric that are getting lost on people is that we would have loved to have Eric part of a committed relationship now, but the fact is if Eric was to sign anything less than a full max deal, he could only do it for four years,” Weber said. “This summer, potentially we could do it for five years, which is really what Eric in his communication with us said, ‘You know, I like it here. I like the coaching staff, I like the direction of the team, I like the city, and I want to be able to put an anchor down and say I’m going to be here for the long haul.’
“So it wasn’t about a lack of commitment. It was about an extended commitment. You saw a lot of guys around the league who didn’t get deals done, like (Portland’s Nicolas) Batum. It’s OK. With the new collective bargaining agreement, the rules are a little bit different. As Eric said in his statement, business is business. Sometimes you do things that seem counter to it, but it’s the right business decision, and you move on.”