I was drawn into reading this story today from Deadspin, for lack of much else to do. Besides, although not a NBA fan, I still find it amusing when OKC is blamed for “stealing” the Sonics.
I found this excerpt nagging at me:
“If you think your hometown sports teams are all great buddies, you’re wrong. The Celtics’ biggest rivals aren’t the Lakers; they’re the Bruins. Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant may compete for wins, but the Celtics and Bruins compete for money. There are a finite number of rich people in any given city, with a finite amount of money to spend on sports. When a team can make the same amount of money selling two courtside seats as they can selling an entire section of the upper bowl, they’ll target their sales strategies accordingly. Getting the affluent to your games means pampering them the minute they walk through the doors. At Safeco and CenturyLink fields, the Mariners and Seahawks do just that; they’re gleaming palaces of conspicuous consumption that ensure that fans paying top dollar are given a premium experience with food, drinks, and seatside service delivered efficiently and comfortably. The Sonics couldn’t do that. KeyArena had some low-budget exclusive hangouts, but nothing compared to the city’s other stadiums.”
Many have said around OKC that the AHL hockey team, the Barons, and the NBA Thunder should do more together. The folks say “well, the players are friends, they should go to each others games, support each other”. Now, maybe they do chit chat, hang out, text each other. I know some Barons players have been to the Thunder games. I don’t think ONE Thunder player has ever attended a Barons game much less ever mentioned them. Do I expect that to occur? No. Would it be nice? Sure it would. But the reality this isn’t a “let’s hug and be friends” situation like some in the city would like. The truth of the matter is there is a limited amount of sports dollars to spread in this city. OU and OSU football and the Thunder is what people are going to want to spend their money on. The point here is, “friends” or not, they aren’t going to publicly support each other. I should say, the NBA doesn’t publicly support their neighbors across the street, the Barons. I’ve seen Barons staff & players support the Thunder. Maybe it’s a culture difference in the hockey world I won’t get into here. Both arenas and teams need the public money. Although Oklahoma City is a big, little town, there isn’t much “neighborly thing to do” activity. The city and arena management pour their efforts into where the money will come from, the Thunder and facilities at the Chesapeake Arena.
I guess when tax payer money is used to renovate to the tune of $91 million, a building originally built to bring professional hockey to the city, hockey fans here get a little, out of sorts.
Now, why would the public want to attend a game, although cheaper, in a run down, empty facility with limited resources? Across the street the Chesapeake has been even more fancied up now that the NBA has moved in and city money is being thrown into it for massive renovations, that weren’t even needed. “Gourmet” food in sit down restaurants, suites that are really suites, a huge separate lower area for the special people with courtside seats. How can you really expect to have any businesses purchase a “suite” or season tickets to wooo clients inside the Cox Center? The Cox just can’t compete with what is going on across the street. There is no bang for their buck at the Cox, unless they are just hockey fans. I know NBA and AHL fans are at times at odds in Oklahoma City. I think that yes, the Barons fans do have a right to be upset that the same company and city who run and own the Chesapeake Arena, ignore their building across the street. All the while making demands of them with attendance and severely limiting something as simple as parking. Any hockey fan trying to park on night when both the Barons and Thunder play know they can’t park anywhere near the Cox Center. All parking garages, including the one UNDER THE COX, are for Thunder fans only. But, it’s the Thunder fans who pay the most right? They get the privileges. That’s our kind of society.
Which brings us to this:
“Alas, Walker didn’t have the good sense to lie to us. He went through a litany of minor reasons why the team needed a new arena: higher capacity, bigger arena footprint, more room for high-end concessions, more places for premium seat holders, a.k.a. the super rich, the people who could afford a pair of courtside season tickets for $70,000. These were the justifications he offered us to explain why we were asking for a heaping pile of taxpayer dollars. After Walker’s spiel, a member of the sales staff asked the fateful question: “Wally, what will this arena upgrade do for Joe Sixpack—the regular fan?”
After an uncomfortable few seconds, Walker said, “Well, nothing.” The wind went out of me. It was as if he’d punched me in the stomach. Walker tried to backtrack, but the damage had been done. The battle for hearts and minds had ended before it’d even begun. I didn’t see how we’d get an arena deal led by men who couldn’t conceive of it as anything but a rich man’s boondoggle, perpetrated on behalf of other rich people. Average people would shoulder the costs of making sure that the Puget Sound’s affluent—suits at Boeing, executives at Microsoft—could be coddled at a sporting event that average people would no longer be able to afford to attend.”
It’s a common thought and joke that people in OKC go to Thunder games to be seen, not to really watch the game. Now, there are some hard-core basketball and Thunder fans. That is not who the comments are about obviously. But we’ve all seen them. You know who I’m talking about. The 2000 or so people who come to a Barons game, you can pretty much be assured, they are there for the game. While a laughable number in comparison to 18,000, at least it’s real. There are no flashy game ceremonies. No fancy service to your seats. No fancy suites. It’s the hardcore fan that enters a convention center to watch a hockey game while the lights, music and party is across the street. You know, where the money is.