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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Bricktown could take a hit

The biggest hit to the Oklahoma City economy likely would be to midweek revenue in Bricktown, said Jeannette Breckenridge, executive director of the Bricktown Association. Bricktown already is busy on the weekends, but weeknights when games are scheduled surely would have fewer diners and drinkers if the season is lost.

“I haven't really heard anyone talk about loss of revenue yet,” Breckenridge said. “Certainly we love our Thunder, and the activity and the traffic it generates. But we're going to grin and bear it and wait and see what happens.”

Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, noted that most spending by local residents on the Thunder is discretionary, so people would likely find other ways to entertain themselves and much of the money would remain in the area.

Businesses that thrive on the Thunder's presence could have a tough year, but would still be standing tall, Williams said.

“No one goes into business because they have to live off those 41 nights (of regular season home games),” Williams said. “It's gravy, really.”

The Thunder declined to comment for this story through spokesman Dan Mahoney, who referred questions to the NBA. League spokesman Tim Frank also declined to comment.

“Our focus is on getting a deal done with the union,” Frank said.

Passion to be greatest loss?

Ward 3 Oklahoma City Councilman Larry McAtee initially had a few reservations about the city paying for some of the things the Thunder wanted, particularly the $16.1 million practice center nearing completion in north Oklahoma City. But he eventually was convinced it was a great deal for the city, and he said he still is.

McAtee said he's sure the city and its businesses will be able to muddle through if the season is canceled. What he hopes is that fan passion doesn't subside, because he thinks it has made a big difference around town.

McAtee told a story about approaching a checkout counter during the Thunder's run to the Western Conference Finals last season. The clerk, in her 60s or 70s, noticed the Thunder shirt McAtee was wearing.

“I said, ‘Are you a fan?” McAtee recalled. “She said, ‘Yes, sir. I never miss a game. It's become a part of my life.' And that's what we'll miss more than just the money. The money we will recapture. But that energy, that enthusiasm, that excitement, that would be lost for a year. And that's unfortunate.”