A routine trip to the grocery store revealed to Pelicans’ forward Ryan Anderson a new day is arriving in New Orleans.
While shopping at Rouses in the Warehouse District in early September, a piece of the calendar typically reserved for football mania and basketball doldrums, Anderson said he was genuinely amazed by the amount of Pelicans apparel that patrons and staff were wearing.
And after spending his summer outside of the city, he said it was obvious the spotlight had gotten brighter in his absence.
“We are feeling the love, that’s for sure,” Anderson said. “I came back in town, and usually this city is so wrapped up in the Saints at this time of the year that I wonder if people ever remember we are here. And I totally get it. The Saints have been here for 50 years and are a major part of the community and everything.
“But getting back into New Orleans and just going around the city, you notice the difference with the amount of Pelicans attention and excitement there it. It’s very cool to see and really has all of us ready to get started as well.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by the Pelicans’ upper management.
Both team President Dennis Lauscha and Senior Vice President of Marketing Michael Stanfield said they’ve noticed the welcomed boost in awareness and attention for the franchise over the past year. They each checked off a litany of reasons as to why the team’s merchandise sales have skyrocketed, alongside a 21 percent bump in season ticket sales (more than 13,000 total) and 46 percent increase in group ticket sales.
The budding superstardom of Anthony Davis and the expectation of a return trip to the playoffs has fans gobbling up tickets and merchandise at a rate not seen since Chris Paul’s apex in 2009. When asked if there’s ever been a brighter economic landscape for the city’s two franchises, the answer from the team’s management was crystal clear.
“No, not at all,” Stanfield said. “This is the best of times right now.”
After years of sparse crowds greeting the team in midweek games, and even at times during the Pelicans’ run to the postseason last spring, the franchise’s challenge is to find a way to turn that anticipation into filling the Smoothie King Center for all 41 home games.
It starts by establishing a different kind of rubric. Rather than relying on big corporate dollars to fill club sections and amenity-driven prices, the reality of New Orleans’ economy means being reliant on individual sales.
In 2014-15, 87 percent of the Pelicans’ ticket packages were for personal use. And even as the team sold out floor seats for the first time in its 14-year history this offseason, its financial success remains tied to families (and their small businesses) more than large, corporate interests.
“I don’t think we have one corporation, other than maybe Smoothie King, who are purchasing seats on the floor,” Lauscha said. “I would venture to tell you that nobody else in the NBA can say that, to be honest. It’s a different type of sell.”
So instead of getting feedback from blocks of large ticket holders, the Pelicans have unleashed a barrage of surveys to learn customers’ opinions on such things as the halftime entertainment, music and the concession lines in the concourse.
“We don’t just look at the (survey) results, we take those results and put them through an analytical department who goes through it and carves it up so it’s digestible,” Stanfield said. “Then we meet as a management group, so it’s not just Mike Stanfield making an arbitrary decision because that’s what I think. It really has gotten very analytical.”
It’s also helped the Pelicans develop 29 seating zones, ranging from $199 on the upper baseline to more than $7,000 in the club section, changing prices both vertically and horizontally through sections to carve out the right niche for each spot.
“There has to be a price point that is going to consistently get people in that particular seat,” Lauscha said. “It seems overly simplistic, but we don’t just say ‘Our average ticket price is going to be XYZ,’ and that’s the way it’s going to be and price the tickets accordingly. We literally look at every single seat and see what we have to do to get someone in there pulling for us and what prices we have to charge to get them there.”
Establishing those types of internal processes is part of the franchise’s focus on maximizing internal talent. Lauscha said that between the Saints and Pelicans, the acceptance rate of hires per applicant is more selective than Harvard University. He said he believes the output of customer satisfaction should reflect the caliber of employees on board.
“We have these extraordinarily qualified people who got through the process,” Lauscha said. “Now, how do we tap these people for more than just an average job? It’s all part of the conversation of how can we increase revenue and decrease expenses. Or how do we deliver a better fan experience or increase our investment in the state. That’s been a big focus this year, is how our company works together.”
One noticeable new employee who fits Lauscha’s description is coach Alvin Gentry. He helped comfort Davis into signing a new extension with franchise, met with every player individually and become a force of optimism in the team’s facility.
Gentry has delivered motivational messages to retail sales employees in the team shop and expressed to the ticket staff that they are an important part of the team’s family. He’s also perfectly coalesced with General Manager Dell Demps and Executive Vice President Mickey Loomis, a quality recently fired coach Monty Williams didn’t always display.
“I don’t think Dell (Demps), Mickey (Loomis) and coach (Gentry) could be any more on the same page,” Stanfield said. “I’m not saying anything about the past, but where we are right now, it’s just a really good time.”
It’s all combined to put the Pelicans on its most stable financial footing since arriving in New Orleans. So the amount of red, blue and gold Anderson saw in the grocery store and on the streets isn’t an accident or a mirage.
It’s the byproduct of New Orleans and the Pelicans growing together.
“We are here,” Lauscha said. “We are local, and we are here to stay.”