NEW ORLEANS -- Monday night, Hornets fans kept filing through the turn styles in big numbers at the New Orleans Arena, but by that time, word was already spreading quickly.
The critical attendance benchmark had been met -- meaning the Hornets will remain in New Orleans for at least another year. A strong surge in support over the last couple of games helped push the numbers over the top just ahead of Monday’s deadline game between the Hornets and Oklahoma City.
"I started jumping up and thanking God first and then I was just so happy that we made the mark," said Hornets fan Connie Eugene.
About an hour earlier, a similar feeling of celebration from elected officials and Hornets executives.
However, while the team will be sticking around in the short term, officials warn another benchmark comes at the same time next year, under the current lease agreement.
As the NBA, which currently owns the Hornets, continues searching for a local buyer, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu say a top priority now is to boost season ticket sales.
"Now, we can do this as a community. We can do this as a fan base. We did this a couple of years ago, but in this past year they sold 6,000 season tickets. We've got to get that up to 10,000 season tickets," Jindal said.
Landrieu added, the Hornets – now on a nine-game win streak – deserve it.
"This is a great team in a great market and it's a great product. So, we want to continue to do this. It's a very small step in a very important direction," Landrieu said.
While officials praised fans and the local business community for stepping up to this benchmark challenge, they say the momentum must continue.
"We're encouraging fans -- maybe you've been watching them win and maybe you haven't been to the arena recently -- now is the time to come. Maybe you came for the last couple of weeks for some of these games, now is the time to recommit," Jindal said.
Hornets Chairman Jac Sperling said that will only assist the bigger goals.
"The objective is to find a local buyer to purchase this team, so the team will be here for the long term,” Sperling said. “All the steps the governor just outlined will advance that cause."
Monday night, fans said they hope people across the metro area hear the message.
"We really enjoy ourselves and New Orleans has just gotta keep coming out and buying those tickets and supporting our team, because they're gonna do great and they feed off that fan support," said Dan Zimmerman, a current season ticket holder.
Another factor in the Hornets’ future in New Orleans could be whether the state is willing to hammer out a new lease agreement -- with added incentives – for the franchise.
However, Jindal said nothing firm has been discussed on that yet. Officials say Monday’s game between the Hornets and Oklahoma City Thunder was another sellout – the second in a row and fourth of the season.