NEW ORLEANS -- The effort to keep the Hornets in New Orleans has business and political leaders pushing to boost attendance so benchmarks are met that will keep the team in the city for at least another year.
Behind the scenes efforts are underway to put together a local group to buy the team, and an avid fan of the Hornets, attorney Morris Bart, is one of the leaders of that effort.
Despite what might appear to be difficult time for the Hornets, Bart is full of optimism for the team and the prospect of keeping the franchise here in New Orleans.
“This team I am convinced can be successful in New Orleans,” Bart said.
Bart said he's ready to put his money on the line to make it happen.
“I've stated my interest to buy 10 percent of the team and I've been actively putting together an investment group,” Bart said. “Of course we have to have a catalyst, and the catalyst would be a major investor.”
He said Gary Chouest, whose negotiations with George Shinn to buy the team fell apart, still wants to buy in as the majority owner.
“Yes, I’ve had numerous conversations with Gary Chouest, and he has clearly indicated his interest to me to buy more than 50 percent interest in the team,” Bart said.
What's more, Bart said he is actively putting together a group of minority investors.
“I have a list of 20 individuals,” Bart said. “I can't really share names now. I hope to in the next few weeks have a conference where everyone can show up and let their names be known.”
And yet reports say some teams in the NBA's smaller markets are struggling financially, and analysts say negotiations with the players union could break down in the coming offseason, possibly even leading to a walkout.
But Bart said he's been told all sides want to keep playing ball. Plus, he said team owners could survive if worst comes to worst in player negotiations.
“The national television revenues continue to be paid to all the teams even during a lockout,” Bart said. “However, 85 percent of the team’s expenses are player related, which don’t have to be paid, so that in the event of a lockout the owners would be able to sustain that pretty easily.”
Greg Rusovich, chairman of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, believes what happens in the offseason could improve prospects for team owners in several ways.
“Better revenue sharing for smaller markets. There's a possibility salaries could be renegotiated to a lower level than where they are now. This whole issue where there's no salary cap could be worked out,” Rusovich said.
Bart said the Hornets need three things to thrive in New Orleans: investor support, fan support and government support.
But how do you get government support when the state is so broke and is slashing health care and higher education? Bart said Louisiana gives the movie industry a 35 percent tax credit – why not give the Hornets the same thing?
“Why not extend that same credit to the Hornets, which apparently the people of Louisiana are comfortable with? Give that same credit to the Hornets who spend $100 million a year.”
Economically, how important is the team?
“It's critical. It contributes approximately $150 million in direct and indirect spending,” Rusovich said. “That's a tremendous economic impact.”
Rusovich said the Hornets also provide 4,000 direct and indirect jobs and give a powerful boost to the city's national image.
You can see the complete interview with Morris Bart and Greg Rusovich on our Sunday Edition show this Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on Channel 4.