This is starting to remind me of the bank bailouts, where once the government decided to help them out the depth of the morass just kept becoming clearer.
The Hornets lost $18.24 million dollars in 2009-10, according to Jonathan Abrams at the New York Times Off The Dribble blog. And the numbers after this season should be even worse (which is a little sad because the team is better this season, last season if nobody wanted to watch them it was understandable).
That is just operating losses, we’re not figuring in the long-term debt, which at last count was about $83 million.
It was those losses that had George Shinn trying to sell the team and that forced the league to step in and buy the franchise when a deal with Gary Chouest fell through.
David Stern and Jac Sperling — Sterns appointed man to run the team — have both said they want to take their time, do it right and find a local owner if at all possible. But once the other 29 owners start having to write checks that cover those operating losses you can count on there being pressure to speed up the process.
You knew if the New Orleans Hornets were making money George Shinn would not have been trying to sell the team (he would have done a Donald Sterling and run a team poorly for profit as long as he could).
But the leaked financials of the New Orleans Hornets painted a bleak picture, team where the owner is paying out of his pocket every year and drowning in debt like a college kid with credit cards. Fantastic new purchase, David Stern. (Note: Deadspin posted these first and broke the story, although I first saw a hard copy of them from Larry Coon of ESPN.)
Basically, the Hornets turned a modest profit between June 2008-2009 ($5.9 million) and lost money the year before ($6.4 million), but meanwhile they are up to their eyeballs in debt — $83 million as of June 2009. It had long been rumored that taking over all that debt was one of the concerns Gary Chouest had with the purchase of the team.
What’s more, as Deadspin points out, that in the two years of KPMG-audited numbers George Shinn had to reach into his pockets for about $8.8 million to keep the team operating.
Stern has said there is no timetable for the sale of the franchise and they want to work hard to find local owners. But now the other 29 NBA owners run that team and if they are going to be asked to reach into their pockets for the Hornets you can bet they will push for a faster sale. Whether the team stays in New Orleans or not.
This story just promises to get more and more ugly.
CNBC’s sports business reporter Daren Rovell has posted laundry list of why it is a bad idea for the NBA to have taken over ownership of the New Orleans Hornets.
David Stern says they plan to make a profit, but Rovell notes that right now the value of franchises is not rising and the lockout would make that worse.
Rovell notes that other leagues that have bought teams have lost money on the transaction. (Except for Major League Baseball, which bought the Montreal Expos with the express intent of auctioning them off to an owner who would move them. However the NBA says the goal is to keep the Hornets in New Orleans.) Right now there are no potential owners from New Orleans, or George Shinn would have sold to them.
If the Hornets have to be sold out of town, Stern has a problem on his hands.
The last point is the public relations disaster that this could create. If George Shinn and Gary Chouest couldn’t make it in New Orleans, fine. They’d say that and leave. Now it’s the NBA’s business to put this team in the best position it can and if they leave New Orleans it will be the league’s fault, not Shinn or Chouest’s fault, that they left.
Stern may go with the Seattle playbook here. Push for the state to help with arena and make financial concessions to keep the team and ask for the moon, When that doesn’t come through — it shouldn’t, Louisiana has more important things to spend money on — he can say there was not enough cooperation and there was no choice but to sell out of town.
But Seattle remains a PR disaster for the league, and now pulling out of New Orleans would be worse. So Stern is stuck trying to find someone to buy the team and keep them in one of the smallest and most economically depressed markets in the league. Good luck.