BY LAUREN WRIGHT
It’s not just anyone or anything that could get almost 4 million Oklahomans to agree. But when it comes to the Oklahoma City Thunder, most Okies get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that makes them want to hold hands and give group hugs. Most of the year our state is divided between OSU and OU fans, but the NBA has changed the local sports equation and has brought people together who wouldn’t normally cheer on the same side of the bleachers. It’s a team that has not only united Oklahomans, it has brought a windfall to our state that we could not have imagined when the Thunder first arrived on the scene.
Oklahomans are working harder since the Thunder arrived, but seeing the rewards of their hard work pay off in spades. The finals and playoffs showcased in Oklahoma City has been the cause of something most would consider a really good thing: additional revenue. On game days our city is host to guests from across the country and around the globe. Destination Marketing Association International estimates every in-town person spends roughly $65 on game days and out of town guest from over 60 miles away spend in the neighborhood of $216. Our state is widely impacted by this young team: from clothing stores, to local restaurants, hotels, and security. Business is booming here in Oklahoma City, in a blue and orange kind of way.
Finding the latest and most unique Thunder gear in OKC is for the trendy at heart, and the desire for the newest fashion statement seems insatiable. Blue Seven is the hot spot for local Thunder shirts; selling hundreds each week to hungry fans. To keep up with the high volume of daily traffic, they had to hire more employees, make their own shirts and locate companies and brands that can keep up with the high demand. This is a challenge they relish, to be sure. Blue Seven has been grateful to gain a new set of customers that otherwise would never have shopped there. “I credit the Thunder for giving a number of people excitement about their state,” said the owner of Blue Seven.
As the official bank of the Thunder, Midfirst Bank is also now selling Thunder gear. They have set up their own shops at all the MidFirst locations to make buying an official Thunder shirt an easy slam dunk for local fans. David Collins of MidFirst states, “Fans may purchase official Thunder Shop 2012 NBA finals shirts at any Oklahoma MidFirst Bank banking centers (excluding Wal-Mart locations) while supplies last.”
Royce Clothing, a local Nichols Hills clothing store, sells unique thunder gear and has also seen intensified sales from the playoffs and finals. Erin Richards, owner of the store and designer of all the apparel, says she would compare traffic during the Finals to that of the busiest retail season: Christmas. What is Richards’ favorite thing about the Thunder? “It’s so exciting! No matter [if you are for] OU or OSU, everyone loves the Thunder,” she said. “It really unites this city!”
The Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau kept track of the influx of recent visitors during the playoffs and finals. It’s hard for the CVB to accurately account for the exact number of visitors and guests to OKC in recent weeks, but here is what they do know: approximately 1,000 people from the NBA (executives and officials), Miami Heat team and officials, ESPN, TNT, and various other people with press were in Oklahoma City during the Thunder Home Games. It is estimated that the Thunder brings in millions of dollars every game. Of course the revenue is great, but regular exposure to the world is a new and exciting phenomenon for Oklahoma City. The Visitors Bureau reports that the NBA Finals are televised in approximately 200 countries and territories in 46 languages. Elise Milbourn of the CVB says, “It’s great exposure for Oklahoma City on an international level.”
Downtown Oklahoma City and Bricktown are the immediate neighbors of the Chesapeake Arena and has seen the greatest impact. The hotels have been mostly booked during the Playoffs and Finals. John Williams of the Colcord Hotel states, “It’s a very positive thing for OKC…one good thing happening after another.”
Tapwerks Ale House & Café of Bricktown has seen a sales growth of 40 percent over the last few years. The restaurant is always packed during game days: standing room only is the new norm for bars and restaurants in the area.
Jeannette Smith, Executive Director of the Bricktown Association, explained how busy Bricktown is and how there is just a great energy in the area on game days. The retailers in the area have seen a huge increase in traffic, and that has turned into an increase in profits as people open up their wallets to all the cool, local shops and restaurants on the canal. Smith explained that on game days there is a noticeable increase in foot traffic in Bricktown beginning at noon. More than one celebrity has been spotted in Bricktown and on the Oklahoma River; a rare occurrence before the Thunder rolled into town.
Tom Anderson, Executive Manager of Special Projects of the City Manager, shared how much work is being put in behind the scenes and around the clock to host the playoffs and finals here in Oklahoma City. The City Manager works with people like the Oklahoma City Police Department, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the FBI, Secret Service, and cleaning officials, just to name a few. During the finals they plan where officials will be in the Chesapeake Arena, outside, on rooftops, hotels, restaurants, etc. Anderson also explained how they control downtown parking and how they relocated 500 parking spaces under the old I-40 crosstown bridge. “We’ve put a lot of time into it, and we are extremely pleased it has gone very well so far,” said Anderson.
The police and security officials are often the people who get overlooked during the drama and hype of a big game; sometimes working around the clock to keep others safe. Captain Dexter Nelson, Chief Public Information Officer, has stayed very busy during this exciting time. “NBA Playoff security is a major undertaking. It is similar to hosting the Super Bowl or the Olympic games and involves multiple police, corporate, and governmental agencies.”
The OCPD has reorganized officer’s duties by concentrating officers in the Downtown and Bricktown area. He said there are always officers in plain clothes, in uniform, on elevated platforms, on rooftops, and in aircrafts during the Finals. Being in the Finals has also necessitated the arrival of Federal Security Agents, not to mention the security force for the NBA itself –who knew, right? Security professionals understand better than most the key safety plays in creating an environment where people can relax and enjoy themselves.
One could say the Thunder has made Oklahomans into a family. Can you put a price tag on that? We are fortunate to have such a dynamic and exciting team in our midst. No doubt, Oklahomans will continue to support them, win or lose, because that’s what family does. ThunderUP!
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