From Los Angeles to New York City and Miami to Dallas, professional basketball fans face November without the NBA. The league keeps canceling games because of the ongoing lockout as players and owners squabble over future contracts.
Most NBA cities have other professional sports to turn to with hoops on hiatus. But some markets, like downtown Oklahoma City, only have one game in town.
It’s lunchtime at Coach’s, a popular sports restaurant and bar attached to the Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. Customer Maria Allen says it’s busy here — but nothing like nights when the Oklahoma City Thunder play.
“I know what Bricktown looks like when it’s a game, and so I can just imagine that these restaurants down here are hurting not having that business,” Allen says.
Coach’s Restaurant sees about a 15 percent jump in sales when the Thunder plays home games.
Chad Vesper, sitting a few tables away, has been watching more college football to fill the basketball void. Vesper says all he ever hears in the media is what players or owners are losing.
“What you don’t always hear about is the hotdog vendor, and the person taking tickets and the restaurants down here, that’s a huge impact,” Vesper says. “And certainly the tax revenue for the city.”
In Oklahoma City, economists estimate each lost game is a million dollar hit to the economy. Even with that, Mayor Mick Cornett says he’s not as worried about the loss of money. He’s more concerned about the way the games boost the metro’s image.
“The idea of having Kevin Durant out there playing with Oklahoma City on his chest and being in sports magazines and the team being on national television,” Cornett says. “Those are very positive elements for the community and there’s an indirect economic development to all of that.”
So far, the NBA’s month-long cancellation will mean the loss of seven home games in Oklahoma City. Officials book other events in the 18,000 seat arena around the team’s expected season. But on canceled game nights, the center will likely stay empty, further hurting the regional economy.
Tim Linville, the Chesapeake Energy Arena’s marketing director, says the arena employs about 100 full-time employees and 500 part-time employees to help with things like ticket sales, concessions and security.
“We’re ready no matter what so if they tell us tomorrow that they’re ready to play, we’re ready to go,” Linville says. “The big impact on us running the building is the fact that until they come back we don’t have as many hours for our part-time people.”
If the lockout ends soon, the first game would be on December 4 against the New Orleans Hornets. But back at Coach’s Restaurant, Vesper says it’s too soon to say if fans — and their money — will return.
“If they try to squeeze in too many games in a season that’s already shortened, that may have an impact on how the fans treat the players and the owners, that type of thing, so we’ll just have to wait and see probably,” he says.
The Thunder moved to Oklahoma from Seattle three years ago. So the state isn’t dependent on the team. But in a sluggish economy, any money lost is money that can’t be used in a recovery.