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Waiting on the Thunder

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News.
October 17, 2011
 

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The National Basketball Association’s decision to eliminate the first two weeks of professional basketball could have an impact of millions of dollars lost in Oklahoma City.

Fans of the thunder were hoping to kick off the new season strong after ending up in the Western Conference Finals.

But, now there’s no telling when they will get to play.

Lunchtime at Coach’s, a popular sports restaurant and bar attached to the Bricktown Ballpark, brings plenty of business, but nothing like nights when the Oklahoma City Thunder play.

Ryan lives in Edmond, and says he’s frustrated with the current lockout.

“With the way the economy is right now it’s kind of hard not to be a little frustrated when people are getting paid as much as they are.”

A couple of booths down, season ticket holder Steve of Oklahoma City echoes Ryan’s sentiments.

“Guys get together and come to some agreement. It sounds like they’re both sticking pretty hard on their positions and somebody’s got to move. Why not move now? Rather than waiting and wasting half of the season.”

Any given evening of a home Thunder game Coach’s can see an increase of about 15% in sales as patrons stop in for happy hour and dinner before tipoff.

Still, downtown Oklahoma City brings in more people with the Baron’s Hockey team, conventions and tourism.

While it can be disappointing, General Manager Kyle Cates expects to see business pick up especially as the holiday season rolls around.

“Bricktown’s a destination even without the NBA, so the NBA’s kind of like the whip cream and cherry on top of the pie. In Bricktown, the restaurants are down here for a reason. It’s a destination. But, we’d definitely have the thunder rather than not.”

Officials with the Bricktown Association say overall the economic boost from a typical Thunder season equals 5% to 7% of total revenue.

Caddy corner from Coach’s is Tapwerks where Day Manager Teresa Maurer says the increase in business sales on game night Sunday through Thursday can range from 50% to 90%.

“Crowds in before want to have dinner before the game and then afterwards to have a snack or a few beers or drinks, so we love thunder games, and it will definitely leave a void, so we’re hoping for the best on that.”

Each lost game is more than a million dollars to Oklahoma City, but Mayor Mick Cornett isn’t as worried as much about the loss of money.

He’s more concerned about the way the games boost the metro’s image.

“The idea of having Kevin Durant out there playing with Oklahoma City on his chest and being in sports magazines and the team being on national television, those are very positive elements for the community and there’s an indirect economic development to all of that.”

The two-week cancellation by the NBA means a loss of two home games at the new Chesapeake Energy Arena where crews have finished four months worth of renovations.

Officials are trying to book events in the 18,000 seat center around the expected Thunder season, but on game nights which were already scheduled, it will likely stay empty.

The Arena employs about 100 full timers, but 500 part timers help with things like tickets and concession.

Tim Linville, director of Sales and Marketing says he hopes to see Thunder Blue fill the seats again soon.

“We’re ready no matter what so if they tell us tomorrow that they’re ready to play we’re ready to go. The big impact on us running the building is the fact that until they come back we don’t have as many hours for our part time people.”

Back at Coach’s, Ryan is waiting on his food to arrive for lunch, and, for his team to return to Oklahoma City.

“I think the fan base will still be strong. Yeah, there might be some frustrations or what not, but at the end of the day the thunder’s still going to get support.”

An exhibition game is scheduled to include Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LeBron James and others on Sunday the 23rd in the Cox Conventions Center.

Officials with the Thunder say they couldn’t talk with the lockout negotiations ongoing.

Both sides are scheduled to sit down with a negotiator on Monday.

NBA Commissioner David Stern warns if something isn’t done by Tuesday then there might not be any professional basketball till after Christmas.

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