|Hugh Weber- President, New Orleans Hornets|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 22 June 2012 15:05
Hugh Weber is President of the New Orleans Hornets, where he oversees all aspects of the franchise, including the teams’ marketing/branding, basketball operations, community development, strategic planning and the day-to-day operations.
Following the Hornets’ 2011 playoff appearance, Hugh led the franchise to surpass 10,000 season ticket holders for the third time in the last five years with the sale of 3,700 new season tickets
Prior to his role as team president, Hugh served as Chief Operations Officer and Vice President of Business Operations, overseeing all aspects of the New Orleans market while the team was headquartered temporarily in Oklahoma City from 2005-2007.
Hugh is also board member of a variety of community, economic development and entrepreneurship organisations including the Business Council of New Orleans, Greater New Orleans, Inc., Idea Village, New Orleans Jazz Institute and Committee of 100, a group of the top business leaders in Louisiana.
Hugh has four children, Brenna (16), Zoë (16), Hugh III (10) and Jackson (9).
By Ismail Uddin
Many people seek out professional sports as a career, but I think it sought me. It was never a target for me personally, but I had a relationship with the owner of the team and when Hurricane Katrina hit, which devastated the New Orleans’s region in August 2005, he came to me and said “listen, I need someone that can help me as we make difficult decisions”. It was really more out of a personal call to help a friend. My thought was that I would do it for about six months, help him get settled and then go back to my duties of the time. I got on the ground about eight weeks later, the President at the time left and then there was just more work to be done. So, six years later here I am.
What kept you interested in the industry?
I had been used to running organisations that were much bigger. The first impression of an NBA franchise to me was that it was much smaller, much more agile, had more ability to be dynamic and change, especially for a team like ours that was going to demand changes. Moving to an alternative city for two seasons, then moving back and going through all that change, we had to establish a culture that was able to, in a healthy way, digest those types of changes and be ready for things. Having an organisation of 140 people versus what I was used to, which was much bigger, that was one of the first things that impressed me.
The second thing was when we talk about food and consumer product, we’re very aware of our brand, what our brand positioning is and how we do things. I’ve always been humbled and overwhelmed by the importance our brand has. Now, with the community and our fans, there’s a psyche of an entire region. Your brand is something people are very engaged with. For example, I could go to a barbeque in my prior life with a bunch of families and nobody wanted to sit around and talk about potato chips for an hour, but they certainly wanted to do that with basketball. That is an incredible position to be in, but there is an obligation to use that passion for your brand for good. That’s important.The final thing that intrigued me was the challenge. In the consumer product industry, your product is very consistent. When people buy your product, they know what they’re getting, yet you can have a player get injured or there’s disappointment when you don’t meet expectations because the variability of your product on the court is very different. So, you have to find ways to establish consistency in your brand position and go beyond record. It’s a complex puzzle you get every morning and attempt to solve.
How has the “I’m in” campaign helped ticket sales?
We live in the 56th demographic market in America and people here really have an affinity for community. Anybody that’s supporting the community, anybody who is promoting what the city is about, fans will do whatever they can to save it. So, when the NBA bought the team, there was a concern that the team would be leaving. What we needed to do was, instead of convincing everybody that we were committed to being here, we had to change the dialogue and it became not about basketball, it became about the importance of the team to the community. What instated was this belief that you’re ‘in’ for this city, you’re ‘in’ this community and you’re ‘in’ for the team. The two were synonymous; by supporting the team, you’re ‘in’ for the community.
We actually went out into people’s homes and businesses over a hundred days and talked to them about the importance of the team and how committed the team was about supporting the region. Through that, we sold season tickets. We sold ten thousand season tickets last year at a time when we had an NBA lockout, we didn’t have an owner and the economy was terrible. All these things were happening but people were buying tickets, not because it was basketball, but because it was a statement of who we were as a region. That was what the importance of ‘I’m in’ was and we found that ‘I’m in’ actually resonates with our brand moving forward. It’s about the future of New Orleans, not the past. The Saints are really symbolic of the history and tradition in New Orleans, they’ve been around since 1968 and our brand is just different than that. We don’t have stability and legacy that the Saints do. So, our brand position in the way that people see us in the community is much more about the future.