Hornets President Hugh Weber is leaving the NBA club, and new owner Tom Benson has appointed top New Orleans Saints executives Dennis Lauscha and Mickey Loomis to oversee both teams.
The change, made official on Monday, puts Lauscha in charge of both clubs’ business operations. Loomis, the Saints’ general manager, will also head up the Hornets’ basketball operations and oversee general manager Dell Demps.
Weber joined the Hornets after Hurricane Katrina, while the club was displaced to Oklahoma City from 2005-2007. The NBA retained Weber after buying the Hornets from George Shinn in December 2010, and Weber played a leading role in boosting the Hornets’ season ticket base to more than 10,000 as part of the league’s plan to make the team more attractive to potential local buyers.
Weber became a common sight at team-sponsored social gatherings at the homes of business leaders around New Orleans in an effort to deepen the roots of the Hornets in the Big Easy and end a cycle of lackluster attendance for the club since it moved to Louisiana from Charlotte in 2002
The unusual marketing campaign worked, and Benson stepped forward in April to buy the Hornets. Benson also agreed to a long-term lease that the NBA had negotiated for the Hornets at the state-owned New Orleans Arena — a deal that locks the team into Louisiana through 2024.
Last week, the NBA Board of Governors approved Benson’s purchase for about $338 million, and the sale officially closed on Friday.
”We did make a change with Hugh and it is important to note that if it were not for his leadership and running the Hornets during a very difficult time, this sale would have not happened,” Benson said in a written statement. ”He made the transition very smooth and he should be commended. In most ownership changes like this, there is normally a change at the top. And although Hugh provided great leadership, we have decided it best to transfer our top management in Dennis to that role.”
Lauscha, who joined the Saints as chief financial officer in 1998, has been a vice president since 2003. He was the Saints’ point man during negotiations that produced a multifaceted, 15-year lease of the Louisiana Superdome, which runs through 2025 and included Benson’s purchase and renovation of an adjacent office tower. As part of the deal, Benson then leased back much of the office tower to the state, which relocated government offices there from scattered properties around the city.
The deal also gave Benson the option to sell naming rights to the Superdome, which were purchased last year by Mercedes-Benz.
Loomis joined the Saints in 2000 and was promoted to general manager in 2002. He hired coach Sean Payton and signed quarterback Drew Brees, who combined to lead the Saints to their first Super Bowl in the 2009-10 season.
Loomis has been suspended eight games from his role as Saints general manager in connection with the NFL’s bounty investigation, but his new role with the Hornets could allow him to keep working for Benson, and with Lauscha, on matters pertaining to the NBA club during that time.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello didn’t immediately respond to a question concerning how the NFL would view Loomis’ work with the Hornets during his NFL suspension.