I grew up in New Orleans and I am proud to call it home. Though my life has taken me 70 miles west to Baton Rouge, there will always be a part of me that resides in the Crescent City.
So when fellow Bleacher Report writer Ian Zymarakis recently penned the article entitled “The Top Ten Worst Fans in All of Sports Right Now"
(http://www.bleacherreport.com/articles/23675-The-Top-Ten-Worst-Fans-In-All-of-Sports-Right-Now ) and included the New Orleans Hornets at #7; I was a bit hurt. Then when I read his assessment, I could refute nothing. He was dead on.
Now first of all, let’s get it straight that he said “New Orleans Hornets fans” and not New Orleans fans in general. In fact, he even stated that the Saints sell out their games, throwing a complimentary bouquet towards the Big Easy as football fans.
But the situation is a little more complicated than that. There are many important factors that need to be pondered when discussing what I think is the rise of the New Orleans pro basketball fan:
1) Attendance and Population
First off, you can’t talk about fandom in general without referring to attendance. The Hornets were near the bottom of the NBA in attendance. That is an irrefutable fact and it is a black eye on sports fans native to the area. But it’s not out of a lack of “want to.”
Before Katrina, New Orleans was already one of the smaller markets in the NBA. Orleans Parish has half the amount of people now than it had in 2000. To compound matters, we’re talking about a city where the median household income now is $36,000/yr. With the increase in gas prices and cost of living, there’s not a big pool of people in the area that can afford 41 NBA priced home games a year. It’s simple math.
The Hornets organization has done a great job promoting the team to the rest of the state including Mississippi and Alabama and with promising results marketing the Hornets as “The Gulf South’s Team.”
And if those factors weren’t enough, the Bees have to compete with…
With no disrespect to the Hornets or the Zephyrs (N.O. AAA Baseball team), Louisiana is a football state. It always has been and always will be. So what it boils down to is, if the Hornets are a new exciting friend that we like to hang out with, then the Saints are our families and LSU football is our spouse. It’s just that simple. We like our friends, heck we love them, but we’d do anything for our spouse and family.
In this state, the Hornets are third in the pecking order. They are the middle child. So your average sports fan’s disposable income is probably going to support the Saints or Tigers.
It doesn’t help attendance either that a majority of the Hornets games are on TV. Am I going to drive 70 miles on a Tuesday night to watch the Hornets play the Grizzlies when the game is on the tube? Probably not, it’s just the way it is.
Now I am very proud to be a Saints fan. The Saints are not some team we pull for, they are as much a part of the culture of New Orleans as good people, good food and good times.
It’s easy to be a Patriots, 49ers, Cowboys, or Packers fan. These are successful franchises with championships to their credit. No, Saints fans love their team. How would else would you explain a fan base that gives so much and has received so little through the years? It’s because the Saints are like family. We have history with them. The Hornets haven’t even been in town a decade yet. They haven’t had the chance to build that kind of rabid passion yet.
3) Knowledge and Familiarity
I’m in my early 30’s and I barely remember when the Jazz were here. That’s how long it’s been since the NBA had a team here. While your average Louisiana sports fan’s knowledge base is pretty high overall (just don’t ask us hockey questions), the NBA IQ is a work in progress.
Before the Hornets, basketball fans in the area probably paid more attention to college basketball than pro. Not that Hornets fans aren’t knowledgeable (we are) but the fan base as a whole is in the infant stage.
But the Hornets are starting to grow on us. Just looking at the attendance numbers. It’s true, most of the season wasn’t great and one can attribute rabid fandom now to all the winning that’s going on, but let’s face it…
4) Winning is just what the doctor ordered
In an area that’s in love with the Saints, we’re more than willing to project our victory-starved fandom onto the Hornets. The area in general could use anything uplifting on a day-to-day basis, but the Hornets are filling that need as of late. Saints and LSU football has been known to affect the general workplace mood on a Monday morning in the fall.
Yhe Hornets are starting to do that too.
5) Chris Paul and the style of play
With no offense to Kim Kardashian’s better half, Chris Paul has actually become the superstar that we all wanted him to be. Reggie Bush’s hype was unparalleled in this city and he’s been a good to great player.
But CP3 is on a different level. Without as much of a spotlight on him between his college and early pro career, we’ve had a chance to watch his game develop and flourish. He’s becoming one of those few players in the league for which opposing fans will buy a ticket when he comes to town. The playoffs have been his official coming-out party, though many people saw greatness throughout his whole career.
Also, the Hornets level of play has been very high, accented by few turnovers, few mistakes and plenty of excitement. Solid team basketball with Paul running the show is the reason the arena has started to fill. So is all this just…?
6) Fair weather fandom
Saints fans show up win or lose, but I can confidently answer the following questions:
Would New Orleans be filling the arena if the Hornets were losing?
So is the new found fandom in New Orleans a passing phase?
Maybe. (Ahem, a definite maybe)
No one can say for sure if empty seats are a thing of the past. One thing I can tell you is that if this year is any indication, next year will be better because so many people fell in love with the 2007-08 Hornets. While the numbers and demographics are against them, this area is slowly turning teal and gold—at least during basketball season.
So I hope I had a chance to show you why the Hornets were on Mr. Zymarakis’ list. Hornets fans are new at this but the winning thing is definitely contagious and it looks as if the fever will spread.
Even with the injury to David West, Game 7 will be an electric atmosphere against the Spurs Monday night and will hopefully be a benchmark moment for the Hornets franchise in New Orleans.
So with all this taken into consideration I would love to see a similar list by Mr. Zymarakis at this time next year. The fans would love to see the Hornets fall off of that list.
But hey, we’re realists and we’re pretty starved for success down here. So a simple slide to #9 would suffice. Go Hornets! (oh, and Go Saints and Geaux Tigers!)