The Pelicans are stepping into the spotlight.
At the onset of a new season, a wave of attention has greeted New Orleans’ NBA franchise for the first time in nearly a decade.
National broadcasters, advertisers, video game products and a host of media members have locked in on the Pelicans, thanks partly to its appearance in the Western Conference Playoffs a year ago and mostly because of Anthony Davis’ ascendancy into superstardom.
The Pelicans are slated to appear 13 times on the league’s prime ESPN and TNT slots this season, more than the past five years combined, thrusting the franchise into a level of visibility and viability it has rarely experienced since moving to New Orleans.
“We are relevant,” Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha said. “Our fans feel that we’re relevant. Those national games make a big difference because everyone wants to be part of a relevant organization. So they want to come to the game.”
And people want to watch the games on television as well.
While Lauscha said there’s been a dogged effort to improve the Pelicans’ local television market since Tom Benson purchased the team in 2012 — including broadcasts that range from Shreveport to Birmingham, Alabama — there’s no better way to get in front of potential fans than tipping off on national television.
And when Davis’ career skyrocketed into being a first-team All-NBA performer and the Pelicans reached the postseason for the first time in five years, business began to pick up.
“When they made the playoffs, I think the casual fans got a whole lot more familiar with the team,” Turner Sports’ senior vice president of programming, Scooter Vertino, said. “Our eyeballs always increase when the playoffs come around, but this was a good team. And I don’t know if they had missed it, if it would have changed how many Pelicans games we wanted, because (Davis) is so good and dynamic.
“So I don’t want to say that them making the playoffs was a huge bump, but it certainly helped.”
And the attention is making a difference at the box office. Even in mid-September, the Pelicans are setting sales records in a variety of areas.
Floor seats are sold out for the first time, a feat Lauscha said was made even more remarkable by the lopsided percentage of individuals, rather than corporations, who purchased the priciest spots in the Smoothie King Center.
Group sales are up 46.3 percent from this time last year, and season tickets are up nearly 21 percent. Michael Stanfield, the team’s senior vice president of sales, estimated 13,000 tickets have already been sold, and areas from the club section to the value-driven upper baseline season seats are finding an eager market.
“There’s a buzz,” Stanfield said. “A lot of times we judge games as far as the opponents. There’s weaker opponents and stronger opponents, but now it’s gotten to where people want to see us.
“We are the strong opponent. We are the draw. We go to Milwaukee, and they say ‘New Orleans is coming, that’s an ‘A’ game.’ That’s cool.”
It’s a notion broadcasters have picked up on.
With Davis in tow and the label of “contender” slapped on their backs, the Pelicans have become one of the league’s most televised teams, despite playing in its second-smallest market.
“It’s about the game itself, and it is about the players and the success they have,” Vertino said. “No one is going to mistake New Orleans or Oklahoma City or Cleveland as a top-five market, but they are extremely popular and successful, and fans tune in. We are thrilled that has come to fruition.
“Nothing against Los Angeles or New York, but you don’t have to be attached to those cities for the broadcast to be successful. We value great basketball, and I think the fans show that’s what they want to see.”
And that national attention has helped generate the kind of local momentum Davis and his teammates have felt since they began trickling back into New Orleans for voluntary workouts earlier this month.
As training camp approaches in two weeks, Pelicans officials are trying to use it to their advantage.
“We hear the buzz,” Davis said. “We hear everybody talking about us and what we are trying to do this season. We want to give the fans a show and want to give them product they can support and get them excited. We are trying to build on that buzz right now.”