Poor Attendance Jeopardizing Hornets’ Future in New Orleans?

The Hornets have only enjoyed a single sellout at home this season so far (and are playing before much bigger crowds on the road), and they’re facing some economic pressures when it comes to attendance once again, leading to speculation about the franchise’s future in the Big Easy. The Times-Picayune reports: “If the Hornets do not average crowds of at least 14,213 for the next 13 games at the New Orleans Arena, the franchise can opt out of its current lease agreement with the state, according to Doug Thornton, vice president of SMG, the company that manages the Arena and the Superdome. The Hornets reached the mark for the two-year period that ended in 2009, and the requirement was thought to have been lifted after the state was not required to pay the franchise inducements. But Thornton said Monday the benchmark remains in place. Despite a franchise-record start, the Hornets have experienced a decline in attendance. This season, attendance has dipped to an average of 14,214 over the first eight games, which ranks 25th in the 30-team league. Last season, the Hornets averaged 15,072 for 42 home dates. The New Orleans Arena seats 17,188 for NBA games. The benchmark is derived from averages of the previous season and the first half of the current season, which runs through Jan. 31. After Jan. 31, the Hornets and state will determine their remaining average based on projected totals … If the Hornets fail to reach the 14,735 benchmark average, they would be free to relocate but would have to pay the state a $10 million exit penalty. They also would have to inform the state of their intention no later than March 1, 2011. Weber said the Hornets have continued to talk with the state since the amended lease was finalized in 2007. He said they will continue to have dialogue with the state, and they are not pushing to leave the city. ‘We all know basketball can work in New Orleans,’ Hornets President Hugh Weber said. ‘We’ve seen it work.'”