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 pre
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.
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.”