The Charlotte Bobcats: (Re) Launching a New (Old) NBA Franchise, pp. 57-62

Dallass Branch

In 2002, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets exited the Queen City for greener pastures in New Orleans, thus closing the book on a tumultuous 14-year relationship with their host city and fans. Their tenure in Charlotte was characterized by an NBA record for sold-out attendance from 1988-1996, a lengthy and nasty “divorce” with ownership starting in 1996, and a near complete falling-out with fans from 1997-2002 (“Losing the buzz,” 2002). In that span, average game attendance dropped from 23,000 in 1996 to 11,000 in 2002, even though the franchise made the NBA playoffs for the second straight year (“2002 NBA playoffs,” 2002; “Losing the buzz,” 2002; “Hornets history,” 2005). Professional basketball in Charlotte got a revival in fall 2003, as the NBA awarded the city an expansion team and named Robert Johnson, founder and CEO of Black Entertainment Television (BET), as professional sports’ first sole minority owner (Schoenfeld, 2002). This newest NBA franchise, armed with new ownership, a new name (Charlotte Bobcats), new team colors (blue & orange), a privately owned television network, and corporate and civic funding for a new, state-of-the-art downtown arena, would attempt to rekindle the magic again in Charlotte for professional basketball fans. This descriptive and historical marketing case study presents the positioning strategies utilized by this new NBA franchise to rekindle professional basketball fans’ interest in and the market’s support for the Charlotte Bobcats. Specifically, this case study examines the Bobcats’ and market consumer analyses vis-à-vis the prescribed Marketing Management Process (MMP) that sport organizations should utilize in developing market positioning strategies to target consumers (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2000). This case study provides insight into the strengths and weakness of the franchise’s initial efforts in assessing and evaluating the Charlotte market and the professional basketball consumer. Did the Bobcats engage in proper “due diligence” while launching their new product in the Charlotte Demographic Marketing Area (DMA)? What performance metrics were used to assess the product’s launch? Finally, given the existing market conditions and consumer attitudes, was the Bobcats’ initial “product position or concept” viable?