Danny Robbins won't be attending Game 5 of the NBA playoff series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies — the Altus cotton farmer has too much planting to get done in the fields this week.
But the season ticket-holder's wife, Zina, will be at the game, likely with a friend or relative. And she will be staying at the downtown apartment they leased after deciding they were spending about as much money on hotel rooms to attend the games.
Robbins isn't alone in making the frequent trek from Altus. He estimates about a half-dozen other families from his town make the 138-mile drive from southwest Oklahoma for the Thunder's home games this season at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I have friends who are Sooners and friends who are OSU fanatics who will get into fistfights over sports, and we have watch parties in Altus and they're arm in arm watching the Thunder play,” Robbins said. “They're united enemies cheering with one voice for the Thunder.”
Robbins is part of a complicated formula the city uses to estimate the economic impact of the Thunder.
Until last year, city officials estimated the team's economic impact at $1.2 million per game. This year, that figure went up to $1.5 million after consultations with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Destination Marketing Association International.
Tom Anderson, special projects manager at City Hall, realizes the impact figure is criticized by some as being too low and others as being too high.
Anderson said the increase in the impact was based on changing the estimate of visitors like Robbins from 1 percent of the attendance to 5 percent.
The formula provided by the Destination Marketing Association International estimates that for each in-town guest (those who travel within metro area) will spend $65, compared to those outside the metro, like Robbins, who are expected to spend $216.
Last year, total economic impact for the season, including the Thunder's duration through the NBA Finals, was estimated at $54.3 million (the season also was a reduced schedule due to the players' strike in late 2011).
This year, to date, Anderson estimates the impact will hit $64.5 million with a full house for Wednesday night's game.
“From an economic impact viewpoint, we love to have as many games as possible,” Anderson said. “But as a Thunder fan, I want them to win as much as they can.”
Some question figures
The economic impact figure could be criticized as being too low; Anderson acknowledged it does not include employment at the arena, restaurants and hotels that can be attributed to the games.
It also does not calculate the impact of national and international positive coverage for the city. Over the past couple years viewers of ESPN and TNT have routinely been provided glimpses of a vibrant Bricktown, downtown's growing skyline, and shots of the Devon Ice Rink at the Myriad Gardens and other positive mentions.
Earlier this season, the team prompted a lengthy cover story on The New York Times Magazine. That writer, Sam Anderson, has since been commissioned to write a book about Oklahoma City.
No current estimate of the value of that publicity is available, but in 2006 The Oklahoman worked with local public relations and marketing firms and compiled a list of news coverage of the temporary stay of the NBA Hornets in the city. The value of that coverage was estimated at $8 million.
That figure did not include the sort of worldwide coverage the team earned for the city during last year's NBA Finals — publicity that include write-ups and broadcast coverage in the United Kingdom, France, Africa and Asia.
Restaurant owners and hoteliers have long reported they see a big bump in business on game nights. The Skirvin Hilton Hotel routinely hosts visiting NBA teams, while Keith Paul, owner of the Good Egg Dining Group, said his restaurants staff up for big crowds whenever the Thunder is in town.
At one restaurant, Republic at Classen Curve, the giant video screens attract big crowds even on nights when the team is out of town. Paul admits the 8:30 p.m. start times and extended series with both the Houston Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies has him enjoying extra business.
Some economists have noted that economic impact figures surrounding sporting events fail to account for the fact that residents are merely shifting their entertainment spending.
As a member of the state Wildlife Commission and chairman of the Oklahoma Cotton Council, Robbins has found himself spending more and more time in the city attending games and attending monthly meetings. It was then, he said, that he joined with one other family in renting a two-bedroom apartment at the Legacy at Arts Quarter in MidTown.
“I spend so much time up there now,” Robbins said. “Your game is typically over at 11:30 p.m. and if you drive home to Altus at 2:30 a.m., what's your life worth to you?”
Robbins said he never would have rented an apartment if not for the Thunder. That apartment is now being used by his family for visits to the zoo and other metro-area excursions.
“Now that we have an apartment, my wife and I come up to Oklahoma City even when there isn't a game,” Robbins said. “We eat at Sushi Neko, we see a movie, we enjoy a concert, we shop. We're doing all that, where, without the Thunder, we wouldn't have.”