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What's It Take For A City To Land The NBA All-Star Game?

A camerman captures a Louisiana high school basketball tournament (New Orleans girls beat Baton Rouge!). His is one of many thousands of jobs created by the NBA All-Star Game.
Jason Saul
A camerman captures a Louisiana high school basketball tournament (New Orleans girls beat Baton Rouge!). His is one of many thousands of jobs created by the NBA All-Star Game.

WWNO’s Jason Saul spoke with Jay Cicero, President and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, about the impact of the NBA All-Star Game on our region. And what is a sports foundation, anyway?

Jay, thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you for having me on.

Tell us, what exactly does the Sports Foundation do?

Our organization is a nonprofit organization that's been around since 1988 that bids upon and manages sporting events on behalf of the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans.

So when you say manage, you're the ones in charge of actually producing the events?

We are. So our group actually works with the owners of the events, in this case the NBA, and puts together a competitive bid. If the owner of the event then decides to award the game to New Orleans, then the Sports Foundation signs all the contracts with that organization. And then afterwards we have to go raise all the money necessary to fulfill all the obligations in the bid. And then operationally execute everything in the bid also. So we are the behind-the-scenes group that does these major sporting events that come to New Orleans.

That's a pretty broad portfolio. How many people work for the Sports Foundation?

Only 11.

Oh wow.

We have a very experienced board of directors that provides big assists for us on attracting and managing these events. Plus, about 20,000 volunteers in our database that really are the backbone of the organization.

This is a pretty wild weekend with Mardi Gras parades rolling outside and the NBA All-Star Game taking over the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center. How many total people are expected to attend NBA All-Star events?

Well in the past — it's hard to say now because we don't know exactly how many people have come in yet — but in the past we know that it's somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people that will have come in for the All-Star Game. Now, only 15,000 to 18,000 of those people have tickets to the events on Saturday and Sunday night. But there's a lot of other folks that come in — whether it be production people or sponsor groups, or just fans of the NBA in general, that come in and want to be in the same city where the celebration is happening.

I covered the All-Star Game back in 2014 and I can definitively say it was pretty amazing.

It is an amazing event. And if you've been noticing a lot of the signage and graphics and the videos behind all the concerts and everything happening around the city, it's very New Orleans-centric. It is a huge branding opportunity for the city and our state. So you know, what people don't realize is that we always talk about economic impact with these major events. This is somewhere around a hundred million dollars in economic impact. But the media exposure and branding opportunities that come along with an event like this are far more valuable to our state than the economic impact.

Jay Cicero, President and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation.
Credit GNOSF
Jay Cicero, President and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation.

Yeah, the NBA All-Star Game is truly an international event, with something like more than 200 countries tuning in.

Absolutely. And trying to capture the value of all that would be would be pretty difficult. I'm sure there are some numbers that can be run to do that, but it's got to be in the billions as far as the exposure value of this event. Plus the brand recognition under the positive media exposure. There is over 1,500 members of the media here over this weekend, and they're writing about everything from basketball to gumbo.

What does it mean to you all at the Sports Foundation and to the city of New Orleans to bring events like these to the city?

Well in particular the All-Star Game was a combination of our city and state having an inclusive atmosphere, and that is becoming more and more valuable as far as what event owners are looking for. And the other reason is that we have, in the Sports Foundation and the Pelicans, have this experience in hosting this event. So we knew back when the NBA was looking for a place to move the game after they announced it, that they couldn't go many places. They'd have to go to a city that was experienced in hosting them, because with a short time period between awarding the game and the actual game itself, you had to have a city that understood them and a city that they understood.

So when you put the combination of those two things together it's very valuable. For the Sports Foundation, it's another feather in our cap. I mean this event ranks right up there with the major events that we've hosted in 28 years. The last three Super Bowls in New Orleans we've served as the host organization for. There will be four Final Fours, three NBA All-Star Games, four Women's Final Fours. Now a Wrestlemania, we announced that back in January. Bassmasters Classics have come here. So we've got a lot of other sporting events that are under our belt, but this one is just a joy to have here, especially in a short period of time.

Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA, during his press conference yesterday spoke a lot about how impressed the league was with New Orleans' ability to turn this around so quickly.

The Pelicans and the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation serve as the lead organizations for the event, and then we put together a host committee. Fortunately, that host committee is made up of very experienced folks, people like Steve Perry from the CVB and Mark Romig from the Tourism Marketing Corporation. You've got SMG, who manages the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center. And the City of New Orleans with the Mayor's Office and Ryan Berni. You've got the staff of the Saints and Pelicans, as well as the Sports Foundation staff who have numerous years of experience in it. So you know, that again I think has to be one of the reasons why they chose New Orleans to negotiate for this event. Without that, you can imagine trying to go to an inexperienced city and trying to do this within five months — it would be very difficult.

So what major sporting event should we be on the lookout for next?

Well that's a great question. We've got a bid in for the ESPN X-Games.

Oh cool.

Which is one out of our normal realm, but we're hoping to pull it in for a future event. Hopefully we'll be in the mix along with the Saints for an invitation to bid on the Super Bowl the next time it comes around. That invitation could happen as early as May. And if we are invited to bid that, then the bid is a year-long process and would conclude in May of 2018.

We’re working on a number of other events, too, that I'm not at liberty to talk about right now, but hopefully we'll be able to continue to produce these events and attract them, and bring much-needed economic impact and exposure to our area.

Well, Jay Cicero of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, thank you so much for talking with us.

Thank you Jason, I appreciate it.

Jason Saul served as WWNO's Director of Digital Services. In 2017 he took a position at BirdNote, in Seattle.

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