Doug Thornton, general manager of the New Orleans Arena, said officials planned to contact Grizzlies' owner Michael Heisely to gauge his interest in bringing his team to Louisiana. Thornton said that because the arena does not have an NHL franchise that would compete for major-league ticket dollars and because the facility is ``NBA-ready,'' New Orleans might move to the top of the list of new locations.
``Sources tell us that he is interested in relocating the franchise, rather than selling it,'' Thornton said during a news conference called after NBA Commissioner David Stern anounced the Grizzlies would be allowed to explore a new home city. ``That's the challenge of a professional sports franchise, securing ownership.''
Other cities mentioned as possible destinations for the struggling team, which expects losses of $40 million this year, include St. Louis, Las Vegas and Nashville, Tenn. St. Louis and Nashville have NHL franchises.
The owner of the NHL St. Louis Blues, Bill Laurie, cut a deal 18 months ago to buy the team and move it to St. Louis, but that move was scuttled by Stern who wanted to find an ownership to keep the team in Vancouver. Stern now says that might have been a mistake.
Thornton said an NBA team would face the same financial challenges cited by the New Orleans Saints, who want a new deal with the Superdome _ or perhaps a new stadium _ in a smallmajor-league market.``He
The New Orleans Arena, which opened in October 1999, currently has 44 luxury boxes _ an item high on the demand list of most professional franchises _ with the capacity to add 20 more, Thornton said. The facility currently serves as the home of the minor-league New Orleans Brass of the East Coast Hockey League.
The New Orleans Jazz played in the Superdome during the 1970s, but left for Salt Lake City after the 1978-79 season, citing conflicts in the middle of the NBA season with Mardi Gras. A potential deal to move the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans several years ago was scuttled by the NBA because of financial questions.
Over the past two years, arena officials have monitored the NBA in hopes of nabbing a team, Thornton said. The Charlotte Hornets also are threatening to leave if a new arena is not built. The Grizzlies have had three owners during their 5 1/2 years in the NBA. Despite consistently high draft picks, the team is 91-336 during its history. The team's losing record, coupled with high Canadian taxes, has resulted in some players refusing to sign with the club.