The Move to Utah|
(1648 total words in this text)
The Move to Utah
you ever wanted to know about the move to Utah….
did the Jazz leave New Orleans for Utah? The answer to that question
is many-faceted, and will be fully addressed, but one point needs to be
made clear first: The Jazz did not leave New Orleans for lack of
fan support. There is a common and widespread misconception
around the country to the effect of: “Hey, the Jazz left New Orleans for
Utah; that means they didn’t support the team and didn’t deserve to keep
the team”. Nothing could be further from the truth. As can
be seen in the history section above, the Jazz drew tremendously well in
the Crescent City and in fact held the single-game record for NBA attendance
for many years. Similar to the city’s other major-league franchise,
the NFL Saints, their attendance numbers were more than generous considering
the way the team was run and the product that was put on display.
decision behind the team’s move rested squarely with their owner at the
time, Sam Battistone. Battistone’s ownership of the team was not
a civic enterprise, the way it often is for local owners. It was
a business venture, and he was a businessman. In short, keeping the
team in New Orleans was not good for his bottom line.
of the argument (business-wise) for moving the team has been attributed
to the Superdome. It was claimed that it was simply too large of a facility.
With the knowledge that seats would always be available, season ticket
sales were scarce (the most the Jazz ever sold was 2,600). Season
ticket sales not only guarantee that a seat is sold for each and every
game, it also gives the owners all that money in advance. This in
turn helps them to finance their operations, and the lack of such sales
surely hurt the team financially. Yet it never seemed that the team
made an effort to effectively market season tickets, much less game-day
tickets. Another option, that of increasing demand by decreasing
supply (by limiting the amount of seats sold, eliminating the general admission
ticket, closing off upper levels, etc.) was never tried out.
problem with the Superdome was its use as a multi-purpose facility.
Battistone has claimed that the Jazz felt like a second-class citizen in
the Dome-- behind the Saints, behind the major league baseball team the
city was trying to obtain, and even behind the other events such as trade
shows, concerts and Mardi Gras balls held in the Dome. According
to the Times-Picayune, Battistone was “rankled” by the contractual relationship
between the Jazz and the Dome. The deal made money for the city, the state
and the Superdome, but making a profit was difficult for the team—for example,
the team was charged $5000 for lighting at each of their home games.
The Jazz also never shared in concession revenues or parking revenues at
the Superdome. On the other hand, the team’s former executive vice-president,
Barry Mendelson, said the contractual arrangement with the Dome was fair
and was never the problem. Finally, Battistone further criticized
the Dome’s attitude, giving as an example that there was never any contingency
plan in case the Jazz did make the playoffs. However, that is disputed
by Superdome manager Bill Curl, who said a list of playoff dates were submitted
regularly to the Jazz and were never acknowledged.
were other financial problems that were not related to the Superdome.
Foremost among these was the amusement tax, which was a national high of
11 percent. Mendelson has stated that the tax was the worst of all
the financial factors which led to their departure, that it “just killed
us, we were crippled by that tax” (It should be noted that the tax has
been repealed in city venues of more than 1800 seats). Another problem
was the lack of corporate support. Although the city was in the midst
of an oil boom, there were few big companies (oil or otherwise) headquartered
here. Less big companies translates to less corporate season ticket
in terms of business, it can be pointed out that Battistone and the ownership
group made some terrible business decisions on their own. For one
thing, the team-building philosophy left much to be desired. Certainly,
the decision to trade away draft picks for older veterans was a mistake
(the Gail Goodrich/ Magic Johnson deal being an example). The decision
to dismiss Butch van Breda Kolff, who was 14-12 at the time, remains a
puzzling and dumb-headed move. Dave Fredman, who has been with the Jazz
since its days in New Orleans, has labeled the managerial decisions “catastrophic”,
and stated, “We tried to get good too quickly. We traded away first-round
draft choices and lied to the public about future compensation.”
the team never seemed to be properly financed-- there always seemed to
be cash-flow problems. In November of their first year of existence, the
team fired team president Fred Rosenfeld for unaccountable spending and
then began a financial “belt-tightening” operation. This “operation”
involved unloading players for draft picks and cash (examples include the
trades involving Stu Lantz, Neal Walk, Jim Barnett and Henry Bibby).
Off the court, Battistone himself was losing money first through his involvement
with the World Football League, then later, when his Sambo’s restaurant
chain began to founder. Perhaps the lowest point in the whole business
cycle was in the team’s last year in New Orleans, when the team unloaded
its only remaining, active star --Truck Robinson -- for lesser players
business was not the only reason that Battistone moved the team.
There are former Jazz staff, coaches, players and fans who believe that
Battistone simply wanted to move the team closer to home, so he did—regardless
of what was going on in New Orleans. There is a ‘spectrum’ of beliefs
here— some hold the ”conspiracy” view that Battistone, a Mormon whose wife
was from Salt Lake City, planned to move the team to Utah as soon as it
was apparent that the Utah Stars of the ABA were not going to survive.
Others, like Barry Mendelson, see the decision as coming later: he believes
that there was an unspoken agreement among the owners in the last year
that they would move ‘somewhere more friendly to us—more friendly being
geographically’. Both views have some merit. Battistone not
only passed on moving the team to much more lucrative markets than New
Orleans (Dallas, Minnesota, Miami, Cincinnati and St. Louis); he moved
to a market that was smaller than New Orleans. That seems
like a personal decision, not a good ‘business’ decision. And it should
be noted that the ABA's Utah Stars had shown there was a fan base—they
had drawn crowds of 12,000 plus and had averaged 8,501 per game in the
year before they went under.
must also be pointed out as the single reason that the team kept the wholly
incongruous name “Jazz” upon moving to Utah. Most people assumed
it was because of the quick move, or that Battistone must have been too
strapped for cash to change the uniforms and such. The organization
did sponsor a contest to pick a new nickname and team colors, but Battistone
vetoed the idea. He has claimed that he made up his mind that the trappings
would not change, explaining that he wanted those who criticized the Jazz
in New Orleans to be reminded it was the same franchise that had later
earned success in Utah.
New Orleans is not without fault regarding the team’s move to Utah.
First of all, there was a clear lack of corporate and political support.
Corporate support was lacking not just from a dearth of corporate entities
(as indicated above), but also, there was little interest in the team from
local business leaders. A prime example was the initial lack of local
investors, and subsequent selling off of local investment in the team.
With the type of booming economy present in New Orleans between 1974-1979,
there clearly could have been a consortium of local investors assembled
with enough capital to locally own the team, but no one stepped forward
to do so. There was little political effort to retain the team, either.
Ernest “Dutch” Morial was in his first year as mayor during the move, and
had more pressing problems on his mind at the time (such as a police strike
during Mardi Gras of 1979). Governor Edwin Edwards was in his lame-duck
last year of office, and other local and state officials remained noticeably
silent. Fans were probably the most outspoken about the move, but
their response was more a cry of lamentation than a battle cry to save
of this response of the businessmen, politicians and fans has to be placed
in the context of the times, however. This was 1979, when the NBA
was at the nadir of its popularity, running a distant third behind football
and baseball. The NBA Finals were shown on network television on
tape delay after the late news. This was the season before Magic
Johnson and Larry Bird entered the league (saving the league, as some have
said) and several years before the arrival of Michael Jordan and media-savvy
commissioner David Stern. In short, this was many years before the
NBA was “Fan-tastic”, and many years before fans could say, “ I Love This
Game”. It was also before the Raiders situation and the whole idea
of franchise moves in sports became major news. In fact, NBA moves
were not unusual during this time, as the Rockets had moved from San Diego
to Houston in 1971, the Cincinnati Royals became the Kansas City-Omaha
Kings in 1972, the Buffalo Braves became the San Diego Clippers in 1978,
the Clippers moved to L.A. in 1984, and the Kansas City Kings moved to
Sacramento in 1985.
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