Every region in the United States has its own unique sports specialty. Texas is a football state, California is a baseball state and Illinois a basketball state. Of course there are overlaps between regions, but you get the point. I find the Carolinas very interesting in this landscape, particularly in the realm of basketball. The Charlotte Hornets should be way more popular than they are. I’m not even a Carolina native, I’m a Clevelander who’s allegiance resides to the Hornets and Tar Heels (we’ll touch on this in a bit).
Let’s start with the facts. As it currently stands, the Hornets rank twenty-third in attendance per ESPN. Nearly every team behind them is actively tanking or just bad. Next, the Hornets are one of the youngest NBA franchises celebrating their thirty year anniversary this season. In those thirty years they have reached the playoffs ten times (hopefully they can make it 11 this season). The team’s Twitter profile has less than one million followers, while twenty teams in the association have eclipsed that coveted mark. Finally, they have not one, but two states to cover effectively. Now that we have the facts, allow me to examine why the Hornets should be way more popular in the Carolinas.
Michael Jordan, who many consider to be the greatest basketball player of all time, has been the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets since 2010. Jordan, a native to North Carolina, famously attended UNC where he and the Tar Heels won a national championship in 1982. From there, the legend of MJ blossomed as a member of the Chicago Bulls and the rest is history. To this day there is still a mystic around the brand of Michael Jordan. The basketball legacy he left behind as well as the multi-billion dollar Air Jordan sneaker brand that still dominates basketball culture are two easy ways to attract new fans to the organization. I mean c’mon… it’s Michael effin’ Jordan.
As far as professional sports go, the Carolinas are oddly left out. There are zero MLB teams in the area that would draw attention away from the Hornets. This eliminates an entire market segment to worry about. The Carolina Hurricanes have emerged as a fun franchise this season, but the hockey scope across the country let alone the Carolinas is still relatively small. The Canes rank twenty-eighth in NHL attendance this season per ESPN. Congrats to them on making the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons #TakeWarning. We’ll be rooting for you.
The Panthers are the largest “threat” to the Hornets. Led by Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and now Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers have developed to become one of the most polarizing teams in the NFL. The Panthers have been to two Super Bowls in their 25 years. We all understand how dominant the NFL market is, but the peak of the respective leagues are played at two different times during a calendar year, there is definitely a space for the Hornets to thrive in the professional sports sphere in the Carolinas.
The Heart of ACC Country
Is there anybody that hates the ACC, truly? Charlotte and the Carolinas as a whole are the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference. With UNC, Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, and Clemson all nearby, it should naturally generate a sports dominated ecosystem, especially with basketball which the conference is particularly known for. We see you and definitely appreciate you, Clemson. Not to mention some of the other college basketball powers that exist such as Wofford, UNC-Wilmington, NC Central, among others. It blows my mind that all of these schools have passionate and large following and the Hornets have yet to capitalize on this. The Hurricanes have done an excellent job of this by introducing their “College Colors” series.
Nine games this season the Canes have featured one of the local universities in order to promote their team and unintentionally grow the Carolinas. The Hornets should capitalize on this immediately due to the stronghold that the ACC has on basketball.
The NBA is a player’s league that is led by the many faces of their stars. With the control that players have acquired, the freedom of player movement has changed the dynamics of the league and the sports world as a whole. Fans don’t root for teams as much and would rather root for individual players these days. This is where team branding has become so critically important.
The Hornets have one of the coolest brands in the league. The sleek logo, the iconic purple and teal colorway, the Hive, the honeycomb attributes, whether it be on the court or in the locker room, a Jordan Brand partnership, it’s all so damn sick. Cosiki media did a locker room tour of the Hornets last season that encapsulates all of these aspects of the team. Fashion culture becoming more synonymous with basketball has created a perfect opportunity for the Hornets to push their already fire branding to the masses.
These reasons are ways that the Charlotte Hornets can easily see an uptick in their total fans. They have the owner, competition ( or lack there of), location, and branding advantages at their disposal to boost their identity. Hopefully they will take steps in the future to grow because if Kemba Walkers leaves in free agency, they will need something up their sleeve to keep and grow the fun surrounding the team.