Thunderous applause: How a winning basketball team could impact Oklahoma City's entertainment business

Oklahoma City Thunder mania could pay cultural dividends for the concert scene and the visibility and success of museums, theater groups and arts education groups.
BY GEORGE LANG glang@opubco.com Published: June 18, 2012
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Eddie Walker felt a seismic shift this year as the Oklahoma City Philharmonic prepared for its annual “Red White and Boom” concert at State Fair Park, a level of excitement and interest in what his organization was doing that outstripped all previous Independence Day concerts.

Weeks before the Philharmonic's July 3 show with Susan Powell, reporters started checking in with Walker's office, gathering information for the upcoming event.

In any normal year, that equation would be flipped. But Walker, the executive director of the Philharmonic, said the Oklahoma City Thunder's ascendance to the NBA Finals changed everything.

“For the first time, media representatives have been contacting us, asking ‘How can we help promote the Phil? How can we help promote the concert?'” Walker said. “Usually, it's the other way around. So suddenly, we're seeing this real desire from people who are involved in the promotion of the city to look around and say, ‘What else can we help promote?'”

This is not an isolated experience, but part of what several arts organization leaders and promoters are seeing as a possible benefit of Thunder mania, a cultural dividend that could impact the concert scene and the visibility and success of museums, theater groups and arts education groups.

On the surface, these entities have nothing to do with basketball, but the potential windfall has everything to do with basketball.

“It brings a spotlight onto the city, which opens the door for everything to be noticed,” said Scott Booker, president of the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma and manager of The Flaming Lips.

“It might be that I get an A&R person here to Oklahoma just because he wants to go to a Thunder game, and the sideline is that he gets to see a band that I want to show him,” Booker said. “There are tendrils that go out in directions you wouldn't expect at all.”

The unifying power of the winning season has staffers at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma City wearing “Thunder blue” in the offices, said the organization's executive director, Paula Stover. The Thunder is breaking down barriers and bridging cultural gaps — more art aficionados are now basketball fans.

Stover said she has heard a few people who still believe it is safe to schedule events on the same night as a Finals game between the Thunder and the Miami Heat — a potentially dangerous assumption these days. She said that Lyric Theatre throws its full support behind the Thunder but also is hoping for a speedy victory over the Heat. If the series goes to seven games, the final game would take place on June 26, the opening night of “Bye Bye Birdie,” Lyric's first production of the summer season.

But Stover said she believes that, in the long run, a victorious Thunder helps Lyric and groups like it.

“I think we'll see that as the year goes along, because I think everybody is really proud of what we've done and the attention that we're getting, and I'm hoping that it will make them feel that way about their homegrown arts organizations, too,” she said. “I think it could be a big asset.”

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