Schedule Offers Opportunities to Expand Fan Base

There are games that immediately stand out: the Opening Night game home against the Bulls, Christmas Night in the Ford Center against Denver, the Sunday ABC matinee against the revamped Miami Heat, the four-game holiday home stand, the lone visit by the two-time defending champion Lakers in late February.

And then there are the vital statistics that show just how much the Thunder has captured the nation’s attention while cementing itself into the local community: the 15 nationally televised games, a far cry from the fewer than a handful that were shown on the national networks last season; how more than half of the home schedule will be played on the weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) with two Sunday afternoon games slotted for national TV; and how the Thunder will play 40 total games on Fridays (17), Saturdays (eight) and Sundays (15).

While there are dozens of ways to slice and analyze the Thunder’s 2010-11 regular season schedule, from the matchups to the road trips and home stands, what underscores the 41-game home slate are the opportunities to continue to build the fan experience at the Ford Center, add another layer to the cultural transformation taking place throughout Oklahoma City and drive more business to the booming Bricktown and the renaissance of Downtown.

“Last season’s game nights at the Ford Center were stimulus drivers for the local economy: bars, restaurants, parking operators, even the Bricktown Canal,” Thunder Senior Vice President Brian Byrnes said. “It’s a real sense of enthusiasm, spirit and community that gets activated around Thunder games. And to have more than half of your games on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only adds to the opportunities we have to get more visiting fans from across the region involved.”

Remember games at the Ford Center last season? It was the place to be and be seen, the perfect way to wrap up the work week and head into the weekend, with the Bricktown bars and restaurants as the starting and ending points many a night. Having another 22 games at the Ford Center on weekends provides more opportunities for fans from regional markets like Lawton, Enid, Tulsa and even Wichita to plan a weekend in Oklahoma City around a Thunder game. That, in turn, generates more commerce for the local hotels and brings more attention to the other happenings throughout the community.

The Thunder’s home game against the Dallas Mavericks the night before Thanksgiving caters to both families and the college crowd headed home for the long weekend.

“There’s a real kind of event theme and a party theme to the night,” Byrnes said.

The same goes for the four-game holiday home stand that will have the Thunder host the Nuggets on Christmas Night, the Mavericks on Dec. 27, the Nets on the 29th and the Atlanta Hawks on New Year’s Eve, the third straight season the Thunder will host a game on the final night of the year.

“We’re starting to hit a point where we can call that a tradition. We love the fact that the Thunder can be a part of the downtown entertainment scene and the Opening Night brand that the Arts Council and the downtown community leaders have tabbed as a New Year’s Eve event,” Byrnes said. “We like the fact that we’re bringing 18,000 fans into the Ford Center then spilling out for all the nighttime activities, whether it’s other musical opportunities, bars and restaurants or the fireworks show that night. We’re honored to be a part of a very unique tradition.”

The 11 Sunday games at the Ford Center allow the Thunder to create more marketing and entertainment programs geared toward families; playing the Heat and Lakers on Sunday matinees will be a first, as the Thunder has never hosted a day game, something Byrnes said adds a new level of interest because it changes fans’ habits.

The Los Angeles Clippers’ visit to the Ford Center on Feb. 22 will mark the first game back home for former No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin, which presents the Thunder with an opportunity to get his high school and AAU team to the Ford Center and create a connection to that part of the community, Byrnes said.

The same goes for Bishop McGuiness product Daniel Orton when the Orlando Magic makes their only visit on Jan. 13 (TNT), when Putnam City High product Xavier Henry comes to town with the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 8 and Feb. 8 and when former Oklahoma State University player James Anderson and his San Antonio Spurs visit on Nov. 14.

Byrnes said the entire home schedule is good for everyone’s business.

“We are thrilled that we can be a cog in the wheel and be a piece of the economic puzzle driving hotel rooms, restaurants, water taxis, parking meters, and the whole economic vitality our area,” Byrnes said. “It’s an exciting challenge for us to be a part of that.”

Check back to thunder.nba.com on Wednesday for a closer look at the Thunder's 2010-11 regular season schedule.

Contact Chris Silva