Muddy Water Runs Past Them

Two cities linked by politics, sports, problems -- but not style

Where the images of St. Louis and New Orleans blur is in their interest in the pursuit of the sports dollar. Though New Orleans's only professional sports team is the Saints, the city appears to have beat out St. Louis for the Hornets, the NBA team that was courted by Bill Laurie but has, for now, decided to move to New Orleans. That move is predicated on New Orleans' selling 50 of its 64 luxury suites and 8,000 season tickets. That has to be done my the middle of March, and WWL's Mark Chifici has his doubts.

"After the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras on the 12th there'll be a big media blitz by the Hornets when they have everybody's attention," notes Chifici, who says the Greater New Orleans Chamber of Commerce likely will sell the suites but that the season tickets will be a harder sell.

Chifici also wonders how the team will draw if it doesn't win: "The question is, when they win 20 or 25 games a year, who's going to go see them play the Grizzlies?"

Mark Poutenis
Newly elected New Orleans District Assessor Darren Mire
D.J. Wilson
Newly elected New Orleans District Assessor Darren Mire

The Hornets' owners decided to go with New Orleans because that river city had a new facility, pushed through by then-Gov. Edwards. Plus, the Big Easy has a fairly noncompetitive sports market. But if the ticket goals are not met, the Hornets could move elsewhere, though St. Louis remains a long shot because Blues owner Laurie wants to own a team, not just be a landlord.

The Saints' situation is comparable to that of the baseball Cardinals -- they want a new stadium, have drawn up plans for one and have selected a site. Unlike the Cardinals, though, the Saints appear to be willing to settle for an upgrade in income and playing quarters at the same geographic location. The state and the Saints have agreed in principle to work that would add more suites and give the NFL team a share in the naming rights of the Superdome. Maybe Louisiana could sell the rights to Barney and call it the Superdedooper Dome. They could paint it purple.

The idea that a 26-year-old dome owned by the state would be renamed and the money given to a football team that has only won one playoff game -- against the Rams, no less -- well, that shows how distant logic and reason are from the world of sports economics. But compared with the millions more it would take to build a brand-new stadium, $170 million over the next 10 years seems like a deal both government and team can tolerate.

As Rams fans return to their workaday routines in their duller, more livable northern river city, they should remember that real life and credit-card bills from the trip go on and on well after a Super Bowl victory or defeat. Hitching your mood swing to what a group of overdeveloped men in tight pants do on a Sunday is fraught with peril. Those who bothered to plunk down at least $400 for a ticket and who-admits-how-much for a hotel room should come back from New Orleans realizing that the fans of 30 other NFL teams didn't have a dog in this fight.

Until 2000, neither did St. Louis. Be thankful. Your credit card is.

Despite its sin-drenched charms and caloric excesses, in most real-life respects New Orleans is far worse off than St. Louis. Yes, that falls under the category of faint praise. Aside from that, those lucky or rich enough to have made the trek should realize that bringing back a little of the looseness and joie de vivre from their southern cousin would be a plus.

And there was an idea or two in that mayoral campaign. Nagin wants the city to sell the airport, reduce the number of patronage jobs and run city government more like an efficient business. Not bad -- maybe we could try it here.

But one thing St. Louis doesn't need to borrow from its cousin down south: We already tried that ex-police-chief-as-mayor thing.

It didn't work.

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