Fit for a game, not for a franchise

Unlike the Saints, who seem happy to be in New Orleans and who Skip notes are selling tickets like hotcakes, the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets are still struggling with coming back to the Crescent City. So it’s a surprise to me to learn that New Orleans will host the 2008 All-Star Game.

“The award of NBA All-Star 2008 is our vote of confidence in the progress that is being made in the reopening and rebuilding of New Orleans’ tourism infrastructure,” Commissioner David Stern said in a statement.

The game is scheduled for Feb. 17. Next year’s All-Star game will be held in Las Vegas, marking the first time that a city without an NBA team will host the event the league uses to entertain sponsors.

The Hornets will play 35 home games next season in Oklahoma City and six in New Orleans. A lawyer for Hornets owner George Shinn said 10 days ago the team would leave New Orleans if Louisiana doesn’t build a promised $8.5 million practice facility that was part of the 2002 agreement bringing the team from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Hornets have a lease with the New Orleans Arena through 2012.

“I can’t think of a better way to show people that our city is back and revitalized than by hosting the NBA’s signature event,” Shinn said in a statement.

Shinn is looking to sell up to 49 percent of the team to investors.

And if not that, he’d just as soon keep them in Oklahoma City, or at least use them as leverage for that practice facility (though one might think $8.5 million has better uses in hurricane recovery efforts.) In an AP report two weeks ago, Shinn said the area had seen “very, very little improvement” and that it was discouraging and depressing.

“If you look at our gross before and now our gross here from the arena standpoint is almost double what it was in New Orleans. As a matter of fact, it
is double,” Shinn said.

“From a pure business model, if I was just a cold-hearted businessman the decision would be pretty easy but I’ve got to make the decision based on my head and my heart. I really do. I think it’s very important to use good judgment. And if the state’s willing to protect us, make sure we don’t get hit hard, I’ll ride it out.”

However, Shinn said he doesn’t think that Louisiana should offer to write the Hornets a check to ensure their financial success.

“I don’t think they should do that because to me there are more important things to get done than having a basketball team. I think they’ve got to get the families back first and then worry about a basketball team,” Shinn said. “That’s my opinion, but I’m not one of the politicians in Louisiana.”

And, he argues, tourism stops like New Orleans or Las Vegas are lousy places for sports franchises.”

In New Orleans, you’ve got high crime, you’ve got a bad educational system. Because of all the tourists, it’s hard to keep the city clean. It’s just hard. It’s entirely two different markets,” Shinn said. “They couldn’t survive without tourists. The whole city is built on it, and you’re not. You’re built to draw people that want to grow families.

Is Las Vegas or New Orleans fit enough for an All-Star game but not fit enough for a franchise? If all-star games are revenue generators for leagues, it is in their interest to use them in high-value places. New Orleans and Las Vegas have a lot of flights into the city — or did, pre-Katrina — and has loads of hotel rooms wanting customers. All-star organizers typically move their contests from city to city except for the tie-in of the NCAA and Indianapolis.

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