‘On the radar'
Part of this optimism results from the Thunder mania resonating far outside the city, on a national and international level. People hear it on business calls and in airports, on urban streets far away from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Every agent I talk to in L.A. and New York, the first thing that comes out of their mouths is, ‘How 'bout the Thunder?'” said David Fitzgerald, president of DCF Concerts, which books rock, pop and country artists into venues in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita, Kan.
“I think that us making it to the Finals has really opened the eyes of a lot of different people,” Fitzgerald said.
“What could culturally come from it? I don't know. But this has given us the ability to be on the radar.”
Booker said that he sees a benefit for ACM@UCO, the “school of rock” that helps students hone their artistic, business and technical skills for a career in music, every time an exterior shot of the school's Bricktown building appears during a Thunder broadcast. The excitement, he said, can be felt throughout the school.
“Being literally across the street from it here at school, it's exciting,” Booker said.
“You know when you go to one of those big festivals in Europe, and you're seeing 10 or 15 or 20 of your favorite bands all in one place? This feels like that. There's an energy to it that's, frankly, very rock ‘n' roll.”
And it is music to Walker's ears, as well. On a recent trip to New York, the Philharmonic executive director and his family wore blue Thunder T-shirts while they walked through Manhattan, and he said the vocal support he heard from locals was a new and exciting experience. Oklahoma City's image is changing thanks to the Thunder, he said, and that new image can only help his organization and other arts groups.
“Anything that's good for Oklahoma City is good for the arts and culture of Oklahoma City,” Walker said. “Since the Thunder came here, I've been saying very publicly that I think they are the single best thing to happen to Oklahoma City — maybe ever.”
And the Thunder impact still will be felt, Walker said, when the fireworks go off after the Philharmonic's “Red, White and Boom” concert.
“I thought it was going to take more residential in downtown, more corporate relocations,” he said.
“But if the right people start getting excited about what Oklahoma City has to offer, I think the arts and cultural entities are going to start seeing benefits faster than I ever thought it was going to happen.”