Walking through the front door on Friday, Mrs. Matthews instantly accosted me with a, “Look what your son came home with.” My first reaction was a little fear: “Did he get a black eye rough housing with one of the bigger three year olds in his new class trying to teach him that he’s no longer the alpha dog?” or considering he’s still working to perfect potty training, “Does he have a bag full of soiled clothing?” It was neither. He brought home a white towel, and I’ve never been prouder.
I should probably back up a little.
On Fridays at the ClarkPupp’s daycare, the kids get to pick a present they get to take home with them when they leave for the week. On this day, according to my wife, our son came running up to her the second she came in the room. “We have to get something from the treasure chest!” He grabbed her hand and transported her to a box filled with toys that you would expect to find in a Happy Meal at a pace suggesting they had no time to lose. Without hesitation, he grabbed a white towel with the Thunder logo and the team’s marketing slogan underneath it. “It’s a Thunder Up towel, mommy!” he said with great pride.
The teacher informed Mrs. Matthews that he had been scoping that out since the treasure chest came out, and he seemed legitimately nervous that some other kid would select it before he had the chance. While this exchange was going on, another little girl’s mother came to pick her up. “She’s going to pick a toy,” said my son dismissively as he waved his new favorite possession.
And with that story, I now love the typically derided “Thunder Up” slogan.
For the current fanbase, rooting for the Thunder is a cerebral conclusion. A good chunk of those who now love the Thunder had a devotion to the New Orleans Hornets two years ago, and ditched those guys when the Sonics were able to get out of their Key Arena lease. Basically, the Hornets became like the fling an Indian man has before dedicating himself to the arranged marriage his parents set up for him as a toddler. The Thunder are the wife he mentally chooses to love.
Based on that analogy, the relationship with the Thunder and its current fanbase seems unhealthy, and truthfully it is. For the team to survive long-term in this market, it has to do two things. 1) Make the relationship with the current fans more organic and 2) add fans that had no reason to instantly fork over their allegiance.
Building an enjoyable to watch team and starting to win are going a long way to accomplishing the first objective. The second starts with cheesy marketing like “Thunder Up.” The majority of adult fans I talk to (or whose internet comments I read) hate it… but they aren’t the target market.
My son, on the other hand, is perfectly in that demographic. To him, “Thunder Up” is the greatest phrase invented since somebody added “e-i-e-i, o” to their remembrances of a Scottish farmer. And as he repeats it with gusto, he starts on his path of being one of the first people to truly be a “life long” fan of the team. And his generation won’t grow up, like I did, dreaming about a professional franchise he can call his own.
Sure, we can all sit around this message board with our college degrees and 9-5 jobs and argue that the way to insure long term success is finding a big man who can rebound or acquiring someone who can make an open three, but that just goes to show how fickle the relationship is with the Thunder and their current fans. And while my three year old has been overheard cheering, “Go, K.D.!” “Good job, Maynor!” and “Yay, Serge!” while playing with refrigerator magnets by himself, the truth is he’s only emulating me caring about what goes on on the floor. His connection to the Thunder will start with an enjoyment of a marketing slogan and watching a grown man in a Buffalo costume.