I attended a media tour of the Ford Center this afternoon and let me tell you, it’s a whole new place. I just assumed it was going to be little things like some new paint here, some fresh tile there and you wouldn’t really notice a whole lot. But… wow.
We now have a big league facility with even another round of improvements coming next year. My first impression was, “I actually feel like I’m in a major league arena.” It felt fresh, it felt new and it felt first-class. The first thing that makes the fan experience top notch is the product on the floor. But if you can combine an exciting basketball team with a great facility, then you’re going to have a place that keeps people coming back again and again.
Lots of video and pictures of it all after the jump.
First off, we started upstairs. They took us to the new control room which VP Brian Byrnes said is the “nicest in the NBA.” I wouldn’t know, but it did look pretty neato.
Next, Loud City. Gone is the old concrete walkway. Now it’s a tiled (is that tile?) floor that is accented in Thunder colors. Also new is flat screen TVs surrounding the ring. By opening night there will be eight-foot vertical player banners hanging around it too. New bathrooms, new floors, new TVs and more light. The whole thing just had a fresh feel.
Then down to the place I’ll never be other than this day: the Club Suites. This isn’t the best place to watch the game, but it doesn’t get a whole lot better. The views are excellent and just being in there for five minutes made me feel extremely wealthy.
Now the best part: The new lower level concessions. Just outstanding. The drink selections have been upgraded (I remember someone complaining about this), the food was excellent and the desserts are actually made from scratch. The prices seem reasonable and there is actually a separate kids’ menu with items as low as a dollar.
Down to the court. A couple cool things: 1) The scoreboard. It’s just outrageously awesome. The wedge is sweet, the screens are VERY high-def and it’s really the top upgrade. One of the new screens is actually something like four times bigger than the screens on last year’s board. For perspective, next time you go look at the screens that are on the west and east ends of Loud City. The old boards were HALF of those. Yeah. So the new scoreboard is awesome. 2) A small detail but very nice: new shotclocks. Gone is the big box that blocked the view of so many people behind the basket. Now there’s a slender, digital clock that shouldn’t serve as quite the obstruction. And 3) New seats. High-backed leather chairs down in the lower bowl. Very nice and very comfortable.
Next, on to another area I’ll never see again: The Courtside Club. Let me tell you, this place was, well, incredible. Talk about VIP. If you have courtside seats, everything you see in here is included in with your ticket. That’s right, free (kind of). While I was looking around in here, all that kept coming to mind was John Hammond saying, “We spared no expense.” Just once, I think everyone should shell out the cash and sit down there. You could almost consider it a vacation.
Finally, we finished up in the Thunder’s new locker rooms. The Courtside Club was actually the old locker room area. Nothing all to incredible in here, just that it was very crisp and very new. Dan Mahoney, the Thunder’s VP of Communications, was asked how they settled on where the lockers were said he didn’t know, but pointed out that Scott Brooks will likely address the team from where that logo is, and notice whose locker is right in front of that: his floor general’s. Maybe coincidence, maybe not. (Also, it appears the Thunder’s got new warmups.)
Oh, and here’s two mockups showing the next improvements. A grand new entrance and concourse at the entry.
All in all, I was pretty much blown away. Granted, I’ll never get to actually experience a lot of what I saw today, but even still, it just showcased how the Ford Center is quickly evolving into a big time arena. Think back to what it looked like opening night in 2005 with the Hornets to what it is now. And even with more coming next offseason, one thing really hits you when seeing it: We’re a big league city and we’ve got the arena to prove it.