There are a few pivotal moments in a franchise that not only amplify the excitement around the organization and the city it is located in, but can also help determine the direction and even the futures success of each. The Thunder’s first game in the Ford Center last October in front of a raucous crowd and excited community served as a starting point which showed that this organization, this team, could not only survive in a small market but thrive on the love of their fans, the sponsorship of vital corporate partners and the overall sports hysteria that a traditionally collegiate market would be expected to experience when they got their first taste of a professional franchise.
The next moment, however, is but a few days away. Read that again. We, you, are on the verge of the next step into a larger world for this franchise, these players and this community, which can propel everyone involved with the Thunder’s success to a new level of brand recognition, personal endorsements on a broad-scale and local economic benefit.
In short, the pivotal moment for every employee, player, local merchant (from restaurants to apparel stores) and fan of the Thunder is peeking over the horizon, and could very well determine just what kind of franchise, what kind of city, what kind of fiscal community and what kind of fan base the Thunder and its supporters will be perceived as by the nation, which could have long-lasting effects on the success and sustainability of this market as a whole.
And that is why this next step, this maiden voyage into the NBA Playoffs for this small market team who has overachieved through teamwork, defense, budding talent and a superstar ready to make his own great leap, must not only meet expectations, but exceed them.
Now at reading this you may scoff at the notion that this first trip to the playoffs will have any specific positive or negative impact or even far-reaching effects on the local economy, the image of Oklahoma City around the country or the Thunder franchise as a whole. You wouldn’t be alone. In fact, my buddy Bach did precisely that.
He said that the casual NBA fan or even basketball fan is not going to get excited enough to venture down to Bricktown when they don’t have tickets to a game. He said that a traditionally collegiate market will almost always have a more vested rooting interest in local universities with which people have a lifelong tie with than a professional sports team. He said that there are infinitely more important things for the Oklahoma City metro businesses and organizations to spend their time on than creating a frenzied atmosphere for a few nights (during a work week, no less) for a few playoff games. And he had a point. In fact he has a point.
Because he is exactly the person that the Thunder front office and the local business associations around Bricktown (and around the region who sell merchandise, sponsor, advertise with the Thunder) need to reach.
And Thunder FanFest is a good start. In fact, before submitting this article I had written about three and a half paragraphs describing the need for an event, an opportunity to come down to Bricktown that could include the entire family where Thunder fans could experience the energy and anticipation of the playoffs and descend upon the area surrounding the Ford Center as not only a sign of excitement but of support for the team AND the community that sponsors and supports the franchise. There needed to be a kickoff for the fun and frenzy.
Seems like I wasn’t alone in thinking this: “The Thunder’s success this season has been the result of commitment, resiliency, teamwork and passion for the game – traits also embodied by the fans who have been, and continue to be, a vital part of the Thunder family,” said Thunder senior vice president Brian Byrnes. “Thunder FanFest is a fun and exciting way to engage with other Thunder fans and share in the experience together.”
But hopefully it won’t and shouldn’t stop there. My buddy Bach is exactly correct in his assertion that Oklahoma has primarily been and is still viewed as a collegiate market, which is precisely why this first trip to the playoffs must solidify this market as a PROFESSIONAL market when it comes to local community support, fan excitement and fiscal capability.
Corporations do not typically like to hold conventions in cities that clearly can not support a large influx of visitors and are not a professionally viable location. Television stations do not typically like to broadcast nationally televised games for a market/franchise that will not draw viewer interest and maintain ratings. Local businesses do not typically do promotions or special events for a team or organization that fails to produce results and bring in customers.
We’re not talking about taking that leap from minor league to major league since it’s already happened. We’re talking about SHOWING that the leap was not only made, but flew higher and farther than anyone expected. This is the Thunder’s, the City’s and even the people of Oklahoma’s opportunity, on a national stage, to show off what they have all become through the unique transformation of the past few years/seasons.
And it ultimately falls on three groups to make it happen: the Thunder organization, the local businesses and corporate sponsors (especially Bricktown and the downtown area where the games take place) and, perhaps most importantly, the fans and local community.
So far the Thunder has done its job. They’re in the playoffs, they have produced a competitive product and are increasing the recognition and value of the franchise’s brand throughout the league, nation and even the world (especially when Durant, Westbrook, Scott Brooks, etc travel overseas or compete for awards that are recognized world-wide). They have made their players available to the community and through “NBA Cares,” are making a positive impact on the community they are now a part of.
And I don’t think that should be overlooked. Stop and think about that. These athletes, these millionaires with amazing ability are a part of our community. And if we’re about one thing more than anything else, it is community.
Secondly, with FanFest and the Sandridge building sporting a “Let’s Go Thunder” banner and downtown shops and restaurants painting Thunder logos and signs, the local businesses and corporate sponsors are off to a good start. But I hope that this is only the sign of more to come. Bricktown, most would argue, is the heartbeat of Downtown Oklahoma City, which is what this area is most known for in terms of attractions and thriving businesses.
Well these playoffs are the perfect time to make the most of that heartbeat, to create a sense of excitement and even a frenzied atmosphere that Bricktown is THE place to be for the next week and a half (or hopefully longer). These are the businesses that for 41 games a year see 18,000+ people at their doorstep and, in a perfect world, thrive through the presence of a professional organization in their immediate vicinity. In fact that’s kind of the point of having a marquee/professional franchise in your city in the first place.
Well now’s the time to make the most of this maiden voyage, make the most of Bricktown and all that our support (financially, “hello taxes!,” and emotionally, “Why couldn’t they just beat the Warriors?!!”) has made this vibrant area into.
When you think of Memphis and where you’d want to be during an exciting event, isn’t it Beale St? New Orleans will and could only be Bourbon St. San Antonio is the River Walk.
It’s time the nation knew that Bricktown is synonymous with Oklahoma City when it comes to where you want to be when there is electricity in the air. Like, oh I don’t know, when the playoffs roll into town.
Lastly, and ultimately, it’s on you and me. It’s on the fans. Do you know what I remember the most about the Mavs versus the Warriors during that memorable first round series? Oracle Arena.
Sitting on my couch more than sixteen hundred miles away, I could feel the energy from that arena seeping through my television set and permeating every electric particle in my charged room.
I wanted to be there. Shoot I almost felt like I was there!
That’s what home court advantage looks like and that’s what this team not only needs, but deserves. This is a special team. A team that has already accomplished a tremendous amount in only a year’s time and one that actually has the potential to wow the NBA landscape going forward.
And the Ford Center has the potential to be that X-Factor, to maybe give the Thunder that extra nudge when it matters most.
But it’s not just about the arena. It’s about supporting the community that makes that arena possible, that makes this team possible. It’s about stepping up to the plate when it matters most.
The playoffs are known for one thing more than anything else: amplified intensity. Everyone knows that a team’s intensity must sky-rocket up if it wants to compete in the playoffs and, in the end, for a championship.
The same is true for the fans. It’s time to bring your A-game, it’s time to make this maiden voyage into professional post-season play the most of what it could be.
Not only for the Thunder, not only for the community and local businesses, but for yourself. For the five year old girl or boy who has the opportunity to grow up with this team for the next fifty years.
For my buddy Bach, who deep down despite all of his skepticism and reasons for doubting the impact and relevance that this playoff run could hold for the Thunder franchise, the OKC community and this market as a whole…I know would love the chance to be a part of something special. To witness something amazing.
It’s why we’re here. It’s why we’re fans in the first place.
Rise Together, indeed.