Even though the New Orleans Hornets finished a Western Conference-worst 21-45 a season ago, there are plenty of reasons for NBA fans in the Big Easy to be excited. No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis is fresh off an NCAA championship and an Olympic gold medal; 10th overall pick and former Duke phenom Austin Rivers has a chance to shore up the backcourt; and, perhaps most important, the average Hornets fan has a much better chance of actually seeing the team’s games this season.
When Cox Communications, the Hornets’ former broadcast partner, essentially dropped out of the sports-rights business last May, it left the door wide open for Fox Sports to swoop in for the deal.
The acquisition was a win for both Fox and Hornets fans because Hornets games on Cox Sports Television were available to only 37% of the New Orleans market, according to Sports Business Journal. Fox brings with it a much deeper penetration into the market and should mean a boost in both ratings and brand exposure for the team.
Since the announcement in May, preparations have been under way at the Fox Southwest studios in Dallas.
On Oct. 31, Fox Sports Southwest, the regional sports network currently serving the New Orleans market, will be relaunched as Fox Sports New Orleans, coinciding with the start of the Hornets’ 2012-13 season. It will become the 21st RSN in the Fox Sports family.
“With the muscle of Fox Sports and how experienced we already are in the NBA space, our hope is to come out firing on all cylinders,” says Mike Anastassiou, senior executive producer at Fox Sports Southwest. “We are going to put all of our resources behind the Hornets just like we do all of our other NBA teams.”
Fox Sports Southwest already owns the rights to and airs games for the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Adding the Hornets to the Fox Sports family should be a rather easy transition.
The schedule includes a franchise-high 75 live regular-season broadcasts, 38 of which will be at home and will be supported by mobile-production units supplied by Mobile TV Group.
Hornets games will feature all of the branding and bells and whistles of a Fox Sports broadcast. A game will be an eight-camera shoot with a super-slo-mo and two robotic cameras included.
“We are proud of our relationship with Fox Sports and excited to be part of the launch of a new network that will bring Hornets basketball not only to New Orleans but to all our fans throughout the Gulf South,” says Hornets President Dennis Lauscha.
With a new network comes a new broadcast team. Joel Meyers and David Wesley begin their first season as play-by-play and color analyst, respectively, for New Orleans, with Jennifer Hale starting her inaugural season with the team as sideline reporter.
Meyers, a two-time play-by-play announcer Emmy Award winner, brings more than 20 years of broadcast experience to the organization, with recent stints for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs. Wesley, who played seven seasons for the Hornets, joins the broadcast team after serving as an assistant coach for the NBDL’s Texas Legends for the past two seasons. Hale has spent the past three years at WVUE New Orleans and also is a sideline reporter for the NFL on Fox.
There are no plans to air any Hornets preseason games, but Anastassiou notes that the broadcast crew would be brought together this month for rehearsals to prepare for the season, which starts Oct. 31 at home against the Spurs.
In addition to supplemental feature programming, Fox Sports New Orleans will air Hornets Live pregame and postgame shows around each game, hosted in the Dallas studios by Steven Howard.
“We are in the process of developing more hyper-local programming in Louisiana,” adds Anastassiou. “We have already struck a deal with the Louisiana High School Association, which includes producing the state’s high school football championships, and additional Olympic sports. Also, we have quite a bit of SEC programming through deals struck with sister stations.”
Fox Sports has a rights deal in place with Conference USA, which includes New Orleans-based Tulane.