The football side of Dennis Lauscha is sad the Saints’ season is over.
But amidst the disappointment, Lauscha’s basketball persona sees an opportunity for the Pelicans.
As president of both of New Orleans’ major professional franchises since Tom Benson purchased the then-Hornets in the spring of 2012, Lauscha has made it a priority to somehow transfer the deep-seeded passion locals feel for the Saints across Dave Dixon Drive to the Smoothie King Center.
It’s not an easy task.
Folks may live and die with the Saints. Just check the dissatisfaction out there right now.
But the Pelicans attract a different crowd. It’s younger and is more into coming to games for their entertainment value, although failure to live up to expectations is a major turnoff, especially when it’s been five seasons since you’ve even made the playoffs.
But now that the Saints are done — and fans have had a couple of weeks to try to get over it — the hope is that they’ll at least start paying attention to the Pels.
That is, if the team resumes upholding its end of the bargain.
“If you want to grow support, the first thing you’ve got to do is win,” Lauscha said. “That’s two-thirds of the fan experience.
“The other third is everything else, but especially customer service. We feel very good about what we’re doing there.”
Disney-based training for the management and staff has resulted in multiple kudos from the fans.
“We are very impressed,” said season-ticket holder Sharon Hyde-Augillard of New Orleans, who was attending Monday’s game against Washington with her husband, Joe. “From the time you enter the gate where the ticket-takers are always glad to see you, to the folks around cleaning up, everybody is always greeting you with a smile.”
Added Edwin Scipio of New Orleans, in attendance for the first time this season with a large group from his church, “We’re really enjoying it.
“I really like the vendors and how everybody else treats you from the time you walk in the door. In the past, some of may have had some, you know, attitudes. But you see the difference now.”
However, the other two-thirds of the equation isn’t getting rave reviews.
Losses this week to the Wizards and at Charlotte have knocked the team’s record under .500 (17-18) for the first time in a month and the Pels are now 3½ games behind Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff berth.
Even with division-leading Memphis coming to the SKC on Friday night, losses like the one to the Hornets on Wednesday are not the kind of thing that creates interest among the noncommitted.
As it is, the Pelicans rank 25th in the league in attendance at an announced 15,896 per-game.
The five teams drawing less than the Pels — Denver, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit and Minnesota — are all having woeful seasons, although it must be pointed out that the team just above them — Atlanta — has the best record in the East.
So in some, cases winning isn’t everything.
The Pelicans’ attendance thus far is actually down about 500 from a year ago when there was a jump of 2,500 from 2013.
Plus, most nights at the SKC, there are large swathes of empty seats, although there were noticeably less during the holidays
No-shows are not uncommon around the NBA. But it still means lots of people with access to tickets aren’t using them.
“When we see tickets not being used, we contact the people and ask them why they aren’t using them,” Lauscha said. “We know that if they’re not using them consistently, they’re not likely to renew them.
“If they’re using them for business, we tell them to give us the names of the people you want to invite, and we’ll help you distribute your tickets. What we’ve found out is that it’s not so much one consistent reason, it’s what’s going on in their lives. When you consider we have 41 home games, it is a good thing.”
Another good thing, Lauscha added, is that with the burgeoning superstardom of Anthony Davis the team has a player worth coming to see night-in and night-out even if the victories aren’t happening as much as he would like.
“I think you’re still seeing a maturation of a team, which is the way we felt it was going to play out,” he said. “And we’ve just gotten our full team back (with the return of Eric Gordon) this week.
“That being said, Anthony Davis is a phenomenon on the court every night and he’s blowing the whole nation away. There’s no better player in the league, and you don’t have to go out of town to see him because he’s in our arena 41 times a year.”
Lauscha added that the Pels plan to take even more advantage of Davis’ star power in the coming weeks, teaming with sponsors to display 50-times larger than life posters around the city to commemorate No. 23’s election as an All-Star game starter for the first time.
Other future fan-experience enhancing features for the SKC are in the works as well.
“There’s nothing like being at the game,” Lauscha said. “And everyone knows that the fans can make a difference on how the team plays.
“We just have to keep working on that.”