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Canceled NBA season would be blow to Oklahoma City budget, businesses

If the NBA lockout forces a cancellation of the season, it would be a blow to Oklahoma City's budget and local businesses. But experts say the city could weather a Thunder-less storm.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Published: October 2, 2011
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As $93.1 million of taxpayer-funded construction continues at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City faces the prospect of a season without the headline tenant residents counted on when they approved taxing themselves to pay for it.

The NBA and the NBA players' union entered a critical stage of negotiations last week as a work stoppage enters its fourth month and closes in on the start of the regular season Nov. 1. NBA Commissioner David Stern told reporters recently that regular season games could be canceled if the league and union can't strike a deal by Monday, though media reports indicate insiders think only a few weeks of games are truly at stake for now.

But even one missed game could be costly. Oklahoma City's Executive Manager for Special Projects Tom Anderson said officials estimate each Thunder home game pumps about $1.28 million into the city's economy, and that doesn't count ticket sales or wages for team and arena workers.

The city had a boost in direct spending of about $66.6 million last season for the 52 total home games, including preseason and playoffs, based on that estimate.

Still, local officials say a missed season would only be a bump in the road financially for a city that has plenty of momentum even without the surging success and popularity of its NBA team.

City ahead on tax revenue

Each missed game likely would mean a little bit less tax revenue for Oklahoma City, said Doug Dowler, the city's associate budget director. But because the city is already ahead of projected sales tax revenue growth of 4 percent for this fiscal year, losing Thunder home games would likely only make a small dent in Oklahoma City's robust numbers.

And it's important to note the arena still can bring in revenue for the city's economy even without a Thunder season, Anderson said. Officials will be able to fill some of the dates that would be left open with concerts and other events, and the renovations might help the city lure events that skipped the area in the past.

City officials have had preliminary discussions on what budget maneuvering would be required if the NBA season is canceled but haven't yet studied it in depth, Dowler said. The largest impact would likely be an increased subsidy for the arena, but by how much isn't yet known, and it would not likely cause many problems within the city's $920 million budget for fiscal year 2012.

“We have a contingency account, and we have that in case we have a lockout,” Dowler said.

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