(A couple of commentators pointed out my flawed math, it's been corrected below. This is why I was a writing major.)
In the most tangible move to date to help keep the Hornets in New Orleans, the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region have committed to $50,000 in Hornets game tickets for area non-profits. $30,000 of those tickets are for tomorrow night's game.
The announcement was made by Gregory Rusovich, chairman of the Business Council, who said keeping the Hornets is "vital" and that a "successful NBA franchise commands civic pride and serves as a significant economic stimulus for our region."
Talk about backing up your words with action. It would have been one thing for the Business Council to pledge support, offer Hornets-related discounts or some other tie-in, but to just buy up $50,000 is something that makes a real, immediate impact.
The Hornets are currently second-to-last in the NBA in attendance at 13,654.
To surpass the 14,883 attendance benchmark in the Hornets' opt-out clause, the team needs to average Just over 16,100 fans a game over their next 12 games. (In case you're wondering how I got that: The Hornets will have played 24 home games by the January 31, 2011 deadline (they have 12 remaining until then). To meet the average set forth in the lease, the Hornets need a total of 357,192 people to buy tickets. So far, the Hornets' total attendance stands at 163,855. So, (357,192-163,855)/12 = 16,111.4167. Phew.)
UPDATE I: As pointed out in the comments below, the Hornets do not need to average over 16,000 fans per game over the next (now 11) games. The benchmark they must meet is 14,883 for all of last season and the first half of this season (which ends January 31). I apologize for the error.
Now to correct it, one last attempt at math: Last season, the Hornets average 15,108 fans (a total of 620,366 over 41 games) and so far this season, the average stands at 13,629 (177,180 fans over 13 games). Currently, the Hornets average attendance dating to last season is 14,769. To raise that number to meet the benchmark, the Hornets must average 15,440 over the next 11 home games.
Now, with one of the worst attendance records in the league, the Hornets also have one of the lowest ticket averages at just $44. Going by that average, the Business Council's investment translates to roughly 680 tickets for tomorrow's game. But, if you go on StubHub.com, you can find tickets for LESS THAN $2). In fact, most of the seats in upper level are $10 or less. Suddenly $30,000 can buy upwards of 3,000 tickets. StubHub lists several Upper Level sections as sold out for tomorrow, but we'll have to wait until then to get a chance to see what the real impact is. (UPDATE II: The Hornets recorded 13,325 in attendance last night.)
(UPDATE III: The comments below have also pointed out that the tickets bought on StubHub won't add to the attendance. This is partially true. Many tickets on StubHub are resold by fans, which means those tickets have already counted towards attendance. Other tickets are sold by ticket brokers, third-parties licensed to sell Hornets tickets and which have not been counted towards attendance.
To avoid any confusion, however, buy tickets from the Hornets directly on their Web site. They run as low as $10. The point about spending $2 on Hornets tickets still stand, though, as nothing is a more dramatic indication of a lagging fan base than empty seats. Seriously, if people bought tickets to a game and don't even bother to show up, there's a serious problem. As always, thanks to our astute readers for pointing out the mistake.)
In the end, for Hornets fans, this should — really, needs to — be a rallying cry. The Hornets attendance issue has been well-documented (seriously) and it remains a sticking point as to people wondering about the future of this franchise. The players can't do or same much (as David West pointed out, he loves everyone that shows up but he's "not one to tell anybody how to spend their money").
As the folks at Hornets247.com pointed out, it's tough to argue with West. That's why they started the Save Our Hornets Foundation. In just a few days, they've gotten over 1,000 "likes" on Facebook and have raised enough money to buy a modest 110 tickets. All of this is a good start, but not nearly enough.
Now, far be it from us to tell anyone what to do with their money, but it's $3 a freaking ticket! There's no Hornets' fan living in the metro area that has any right to complain if the Hornets leave if they didn't invest $30 to go to 10 Hornets games or donated the same amount to 10 tickets for a local charity.
Bottom line: you don't put people in the seats, you don't get to keep your team. As recent evidence shows, the Hornets rely almost exclusively on ticket sales in order to turn a profit. It would be one thing if the Hornets were a terrible team. But they're not. It's true that they've hit a rough patch of late, but no owner, local billionaire or not, will buy a professional franchise if fans won't even show up when the team got off to its best start in franchise history.
The Business Council of New Orleans understands all of this. The Save Our Hornets Foundation understands this. Anyone else who wants to keep the Hornets in town should understand it, too.