VIDEO: Hornets unveil new court
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA has Rip City, Motor City, Lob City and Loud City.
Now get ready for Buzz City in Charlotte.
They’re back. Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.
Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.
“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.
“I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”
It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.
The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.
The Charlotte Hornets joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1989, built a strong fan base and had a pretty good team that made the playoffs seven times from 1993 to 2002. After the franchise left for New Orleans, the NBA awarded Charlotte another team and the new owners christened it the Bobcats. Actual bobcats are found in North Carolina, but it was often said that the “Bob” in Bobcats was a self-tribute to then owner Robert L. Johnson. Unfortunately, the new team was bad and interest in the Bobcats never materialized. Michael Jordan became majority owner in 2010. Even the game’s greatest player couldn’t pump life into franchise or the fan base. The Bobcats were perennially in the bottom 10 in attendance, sometimes in the bottom five.
Once the Hornets name became available, Charlotte officials immediately began internal discussions about reclaiming the team’s lost identity.
“We embarked on an extensive research project to really find out what that name meant to the marketplace, and then not only that, how actionable would it be?” said Guelli, hired away from the Buffalo Bills in 2009. “It seemed like it was the right thing to do to bring the name back. But how would people respond to it?”
Harris Research was brought in to conduct an extensive survey of the greater Charlotte area.
“The point was to find out how did they feel about the existing name, what kind of an attachment did they have to the previous name, what were their attachments to the colors, how about the history around the players,” Guelli said. “And then a lot of actionable data, like, ‘How does that pertain to how many games you might attend? How much more likely would you be to watch a game? How much more likely would you be to purchase merchandise?’
“That data was so strong. I’ve been involved in a number of research projects in my career, but to see 80 percent in favor of bringing the name back was pretty strong. And as you drill deeper into the data you found out that not only did people want it back, that they would respond to it once it came back.”
They were convinced. The name Hornets had to come back. Charlotte quickly announced its intention to pursue the name, and soon after the league’s board of governors stamped their unanimous approval.
A four-person team was assembled, kept small purposely to better keep their plans and designs confidential. The group included Guelli, team president Fred Whitfield, senior vice president of marketing Seth Bennett and vice president of marketing Josh Kramer. They would work closely with Brand Jordan and the NBA on all elements for the rebrand.
It was a full-on sprint to design new logos, primary and secondary marks, new uniforms and the pièce de résistance, a court that epitomized their entire effort.
“We probably had 10 or 12 iterations of the [floor] design, various looks, and we probably incorporated elements of many of them to get to the final result,” Guelli said. “There just were a number of different elements that we wanted to incorporate to get that final feel: How strong should the cell pattern be? What should the border colors be? What are the logos that should be on the court? What brand do we want to use in the center of the court?
“What was important to us was to really kind of create this DNA of a new Hornets brand and have it integrated into everything we do, and that’s where the discussions around the cell pattern on the court started. There’s a lot of iconic courts out there, courts that you would recognize even if you took the logos off. We started to think about what we have as an asset that could help us do that, and that cell pattern was consistent through a number of our other design elements.”
Once they settled on a final version, it had to be TV-approved by the NBA. A court’s no good if its shades and colors detract from the TV product. Using a sample portion of the court and a few employees recruited to don Hornets uniforms, the NBA turned on the cameras. The Hornets had a fallback strategy, a “little less aggressive” court design, but crossed their fingers the honeycomb court would pass with flying colors. It did, and the NBA gave the green light to get it done.
Robbins, Inc., out of Cincinnati, was commissioned to build the floor. The company boasts that it has built basketball courts for 21 out of the past 25 NBA champions and for more than 90 percent of the league’s 30 teams. But it had never taken on a task quite like this. The intricate nature of the cell pattern made it a uniquely painstaking process. More than 250 honeycomb-shaped stencils were used to create the stain pattern which was manufactured and finished at the Robbins flooring mill in Ishpeming, MI.
The 7,000-square-foot court, which is made up of 200 sectional panels, each of which are 4-feet by 8-feet and weigh approximately 175 pounds, took nearly three weeks to manufacture, and once set up, the honeycomb graphics took three more weeks to complete. Buzz City logos are painted at each end of the floor.
The Hornets unveiled the court to nearly 6,000 fans in late June. A video of the unveiling went viral. But before that, when the final honeycomb was stained and the arena was empty and quiet, Guelli walked up to the suite level nestled between the lower and upper levels and peered down. And smiled.
“I was just thrilled. I don’t think it could have come out any better,” Guelli said. “What we were really trying to accomplish is when people walk into the building for our home opener October 29, they need to realize that they’re walking into a completely different place. It’s not what the building was before. This is the new era of the Hornets and we knew the court was going to be the centerpiece of that, so it had to be something very special that people would identify with our brand. I think we accomplished that.”
It’s been a long time coming, but Buzz City is alive.