BIXBY — The event had long been sold out, but that didn't stop fans from trying to get up close and personal with their favorite Thunder players.
“It's worth a shot, right,” said one ticketless woman on the elevator ride down from Level 5 of the jammed packed SpiritBank Event Center parking garage.
Informed by a fellow die-hard that the fourth annual Thunder Blue-White Scrimmage on Thursday night had run out of tickets more than a month ago, the unflappable woman showed no surprise.
“There's a whole lot of interest around here, that's for sure,” she said. “Everybody loves the Thunder.”
The franchise is doing all it can to keep it that way.
Roughly 3,500 fans attended Thursday's scrimmage, most of them decked out in blue training camp T-shirts the team distributed to mark the occasion. It was the first time the Thunder has held its community-driven preseason event outside of the metro.
“For the Tulsa fans to get to see them in town, it's big,” said Brandon Rentie, 28, of Tulsa.
Embracing the Tulsa market has been a driving force behind the Thunder's success. In fact, without Tulsa County comprising part of its fan base, Oklahoma City never would have been awarded the Thunder.
Thursday's event, and others like it, big and small, represents how the Thunder has tried to give back.
“It's in recognition to how the Tulsa community has embraced the Thunder,” said Brian Byrnes, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “And we've seen that by a significant increase in ticket sales.”
When a group of Oklahoma businessmen and officials wooed and wowed the NBA Board of Governors in early 2008, NBA Commissioner David Stern estimated that 20 percent of the Thunder's ticket sales would come from the Tulsa market.
According to Byrnes, Tulsa County accounts for 5 percent of the Thunder's average attendance, as well as 10 percent of group programs and 12 percent of the team's single-game sales.