With an October 13, 2008 NBA preseason game coming to NBA preseason game coming to Tulsa’s BOK Center, pro basketball is again testing the waters in Oklahoma. In the stands urging it on is Seattle SuperSonics owner and Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. A new rivalry between Oklahoma City and Tulsa event venues may just be heating up.
Bennett is joined in his activism for an Oklahoma-based NBA team by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who won approval this week by OKC voters of a public spending package on the Ford Center that will total $97 million dollars, with another $24.6 million going to an NBA practice facility. The money will come from extending a one-cent sales tax increase for an additional 15 months.
The spending was not without opposition. David Glover led the charge to curtail the sales tax extension MAPS 3 which passed by 61.9 percent. MAPS, the beginning, in 1993 helped revitalize Bricktown and MAPS for Kids (MAPS 2) directed city money toward the OKC school systems. Each passed with an increasing percentage of public support.
Cornett calls the improvements vital, whether or not an NBA team comes to Oklahoma City, but he believes the improvements to the Ford Center show OKC’s commitment to the NBA. Without these changes, Cornett believes OKC will fall behind competitors—perhaps including Tulsa’s new BOK Arena—in the competition for sporting events and concerts.
The Ford Center hosted the New Orleans Hornets for two years, where the team enjoyed strong support and a renaissance. The re-invigorated Hornets surged upward in the Western Conference standings on good sales and dedicated Oklahoma City fans.
Though no official competition for an NBA team between the BOK Arena and the Ford Center exists, the Houston-Orlando pre-season game this October is an interesting element considering Cornett’s worries about keeping the Ford Center competitive.
Could Tulsa provide a good market for an NBA team as OKC did for the Hornets? Long a regional entertainment market for people living in Southeastern Kansas, Western Arkansas, and Southwestern Missouri; high quailty sports and entertainment could draw more attendence that many realize. It greatly depends on ticket sales.
The NBA is mum on the proposal to bring a team to Oklahoma. Tim Frank, NBA spokesman, generically commented that the NBA always supports efforts to enhance fan experience.
Competition between the BOK Arena and the Ford Center was not unexpected, but the NBA aspect certainly is. The skirmish between Oklahoma towns may just be heating up as the arena is completed and the across-state rivals see events coming to Tulsa.