GAME NIGHT with Pete Winemiller

Tip-off is more than three hours away, yet Pete Winemiller already has his game-face on.

Tall and impeccably dressed, toting a pocket notebook full of written observations and future topics, Winemiller seemingly walks every inch of the Ford Center looking for flaws. He will buff out a scratch, adjust a picture frame, pick up a wrapper, tilt television screens, you name it; anything that needs attention before a Thunder Basketball fan – strike that, a Guest of Thunder Basketball – steps through the Ford Center doors, Pete is on it.

Armed with a warm smile and a politician’s ability to connect with the people, not to mention a thoroughly trained game-night staff of more than 600, Pete is the recognizable conduit between the Thunder and its Guests. He is as popular on the concourse floors as Kevin Durant is on the basketball court. Everybody, it seems, regardless of floor level, knows Pete and wants to shake his hand.

Entering his 15th season with the Oklahoma City franchise, Pete is driven to make the Thunder “the most fan-centric organization in professional sports” -- and he means it.

“Business goes where it’s invited, but stays where it’s appreciated,” Winemiller says.

In an era where “customer service” is a lifeless computer voice and long list of irrelevant options, Pete Winemiller is a throwback. To him, it’s the Guest Care business. He genuinely wants to hear from anybody and everybody, so much so that he put the Guest Relations phone number on souvenir cups and ticket envelopes, pleading for feedback on ways to improve the Thunder Basketball experience. There also are suggestion boxes in place at the arena (Sections 106 and 309) and new this year is a text-messaging platform for immediate attention or concerns.


He sweats the details, and cherishes the anecdotes he receives of connecting with Guests. One of his all-time favorite such anecdote happened last year, during the inaugural season of Thunder Basketball. A woman was stunned at the size of the Ford Center, but she told Pete and his staff, “When I got here, this was a big place. When I met you, it got a lot smaller.”

4:30 Pete enters the Ford Center and immediately begins to greet and shake hands with the arena staff, constantly reminding everyone that tonight will be a great night.

4:45 Pete sits in as Guest Relations Coordinator Chad Scarbrough conducts a pre-game staff meeting with the Thunder’s Fan Information Booth staff. Pete reminds Chad and the team that the goal for the Thunder Organization is to be “the most fan-centric organization in professional sports.”

5:02 Pete makes his way to the Event Level to check up on the Courtside Club, visiting with staff and the kitchen crew. All appears to be buttoned up at this new luxury eatery.

5:08 Pete ventures to the Club Level prep kitchen to ensure that the Ford Center’s culinary operation is running on schedule, preparing food for tonight’s Guests.

5:12 Pete is called to the new Terrace Suite section. The televisions in this section are not functioning properly. Pete makes a few phone calls and has a service team fixing the problem within minutes.

5:17 Pete makes an entire lap on the Club Level and an entire lap on the Loud City Level. He takes note of anything he thinks might need to be improved. On his journey, he shakes hands with every staff member he encounters.

5:28 Pete makes his way down to the main entrance. Doors open at 5:30 and he wants to ensure that everything looks perfect for the Guests’ first impression. Pete has a saying: Guest Relations is the “Department of First Impressions.”

5:30 Doors are open.

5:46 Pete makes his way to the court. He makes sure all staff is in their appropriate locations and that the arena and all of its facilities are up and running.

6:03 Pete visits the Founder’s Lounge. He makes a few last-minute changes to the room’s appearance.

6:17 Pete interviews employees about the experience and value of the staff meal. He assures the staff that he and his team want their suggestions and input.

6:32 Pete is told that some Thunder Guests are having issues with their seats due to accessibility concerns. He immediately heads to the ticket office to see what he can do to help. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem,” applies here and in many other facets of Guest Relations.

6:38 Problem solved. The Guests have received upgraded seats for the game and are very appreciative of the help.