Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Ever since former owner George Shinn relocated the Hornets from Charlotte for the 2002-2003 season, there was a feeling among locals that the team didn’t really belong to New Orleans—that the team was just here temporarily until North Carolina native Shinn decided to move it to greener pastures.
The infamous attendance benchmarks and the constant chatter from national columnists about relocation certainly didn’t help in this regard.
Neither did the fact that the Shinn-led franchise always gave off the whiff of a minor league enterprise run on the cheap.
The broadcast situation also left much to desire.
The Cox Sports Television cable channel carrying Hornets games didn’t reach a large portion of the metro area and wasn’t available on DirectTV.
The radio broadcasts bounced from station to station, lately residing on a low-wattage R&B station.
And the longtime TV broadcasting duo of Bob Licht and Gil McGregor, though not without its charms, was never going to be considered a top-tier NBA broadcasting team.
But things are changing fast. And clearly for the better.
Soon after purchasing the team, new owner (and current Saints owner) Tom Benson stated that he will change the team’s name to a more New Orleans-centric moniker, which was greeted with almost universal praise and excitement by the local fanbase.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The Hornets then cut ties with Cox Sports Television and signed with the newly-created FoxSports New Orleans, which will have a much broader coverage area.
Just this week, it was announcedthat Hornets radio broadcasts will now be carried on local radio powerhouse station WWL—the longtime home of the Saints, with a signal that reaches all the way to Florida.
And news just broke yesterday that there will be a completely new television broadcast team for the Hornets, with well-respected former Lakersannouncer Joel Meyers doing play-by-play and former New Orleans guard David Wesley doing color.
Even the Hornets’ physical facilities are being upgraded. Massive renovations are planned for the New Orleans Arena, which will make it state of the art. There are also reports that Benson plans to build a brand new Hornets practice facility next to the Saints’ one in the suburb of Metairie.
What is occurring is not simply a re-branding of the franchise. It is a reinvention of the franchise and a purging of the Shinn stigma.
Since Benson’s purchase, the whole aura of the team has changed. The Hornets finally feel both like a real New Orleans team and a first-class operation for the first time.
And with the recent television and radio deals, the team will now reach thousands of potential fans that never before had access to Hornets broadcasts.
Even the quality of the on-air broadcasting talent appear to be a big step up.
Benson recently declared that the 10,000 season tickets sold last year wouldn’t be good enough for him. He has promised to sell out season tickets year after year, just like the Saints have done.
That sort of proclamation would have been laughable if it came from George Shinn.
But with the recent seismic changes he has brought to the franchise, I wouldn’t doubt Tom Benson.