An Oklahoma City Downtown Dilemma

The Ford Center & Cox Convention Center are nestled closely into downtown Oklahoma City. Can the two work together? Photo courtesy of Sooner Fever

As a fan of hockey, the NBA just seems to get in the way. They encroach on our preseason training and our off-season signings. They interfere with our post season playoffs and our Stanley Cup Final. Why can't they just leave us alone? The truth of the matter is that the NBA is a cash gobbler in a way that the NHL can only dream to become. Simply compare the current values of NBA franchises versus NHL franchises, and you'll find it hard to even muster an argument for why the NHL should have any bullying privileges over the NBA. According to Forbes.com, the New Orleans Hornets are worth $224 million dollars which is the lowest total in the league. Compare that to the twenty-one teams in the NHL that are below that number, and you'll think twice about yelling at Disney/ABC/ESPN for covering the round ball so extensively.

It goes without saying that both hockey and basketball have their exciting moments. You can make a case for the toughness and respectability of players in the NHL, while in the next hiccup mention the high-flying and flashy tendencies of the NBA. At the end of the night, whether you choose hardwood or ice, what matters is the quality of play. Was it exciting? Was I entertained? Was it worth the price of the ticket? Will I buy another one? Fortunately, towns where NBA and the NHL co-exist - sometimes in the same building - have found a way to play nice. Alternating their schedules to accommodate both spectrums of sports fandom. This is not only good from a league standpoint, but also for citizens trying to digest more than one sport in their town. 

Oklahoma City hockey is no stranger to scheduling conflicts. When Katrina hit New Orleans hard, Oklahoma City adopted the team for a brief time causing the OKC Blazers of the Central Hockey League to share time with the new kid in town. Looking back, it seemed to work fine. No one ever questioned the priority the Hornets would take over the minor league hockey team in town. As a fan, I saw the marlin devour the minnow. In 2008 the fumbling Seattle Supersonics relocated to Oklahoma City, and I knew that the minnow was about to be devoured by the shark.

Flash forward to the Oilers announcing their partnership with the Oklahoma City. The Barons' arrival was welcomed with open arms, wonderful optimism, and questions like, "Where is Edmonton?". With the Thunder's schedule set, the AHL released team schedules soon thereafter. Obviously, by playing in two separate (albeit very close) facilities (maybe 20 steps), there wasn't too much to squabble about when discussing any scheduling conflicts. I understand that the AHL is not the NBA, and that comparing their net worths is futile. The NBA will always, I repeat always, win the ticket sales, revenue, and overall value race, so don't take these ramblings to mean anything different. However, there are indeed four dates in the NBA/AHL schedule in Oklahoma City that might cause some heartburn for Barons fans:

Sunday, November 7th
Marlies vs. Barons 5:05pm
Celtics vs. Thunder 6:00pm

Friday, November 12th
Wolves vs. Barons 6:05pm
Trailblazers vs. Thunder 7:30pm

Friday, January 28th
Stars vs. Barons 6:05pm
Wizards vs. Thunder 7:00pm

Friday, March 11th
Griffins vs. Barons 6:05pm
Pistons vs. Thunder 7:00pm

You'll notice that the start times have been staggered by the AHL. Apparently, they see a downtown dilemma in the works.  I see it too.

Dilemma #1 Parking
Parking in downtown Oklahoma City has always been a touchy situation. A downtown area that has not kept up with the demand of an NBA franchise has also been slow to bring sufficient parking options to the masses. Meters, Ford Center underground parking, Santa Fe garage, etc. are all options. but say that you had a full Ford Center at around 18,000. Add in another 6,000 hockey fans and suddenly you have a lot of people cramming into various parking outlets. This doesn't include the annual Downtown in December emphasis, various business meetings, conferences in nearby hotels, and those actually working at the aforementioned events. The OKC Parking Authority has always done an admirable job at providing decent rates for events, but the sheer volume of cars, and the lack of carpooling will make a few folks pull their hair out.

Dilemma #2 Restaurants
What might appear to be a blessing may indeed be a curse for local restaurants. Long waits are good, until they are so long that you don't consider dining downtown on game night again or in the near future at all. Proprietors everywhere would leap for joy at the promise of guaranteed customers, especially on weekday nights, but how many diners will consider the option of eating prior to arrival or snacking during the game or going away from downtown? The three choices probably depend of the amount of cash you're ready to spend, or your tolerance for over-crowded eating establishments. This is a fan dilemma not a tax dollar/restaurant dollar dilemma, but it's a dilemma nonetheless.

Dilemma #3 Law EnforcementNearly all of the dilemmas listed have to do with overcrowding problems. And with large crowds come the good people at the OKC PD and their good friends the OK County Sheriff's Department. The city will need to assign the right number of officers to keep the peace amongst a chaotic group of sports fans, all heading in different directions before, during, and after each game. High quality sporting events also seem to bring out the low quality in people, especially when inebriated. Let's knock on wood here, but between the crush of humanity and the booze more pedestrian and vehicular accidents are bound to occur thus leading to an increase in enforcement needs.

Dilemma #4 The Pick & Choose
What if you're the odd man out, and you choose to follow Thunder basketball AND Barons hockey. I'm there with you. Oklahomans embrace local sports and almost always champion the under-dog. The upstart Thunder almost taking the Los Angeles Lakers to a Game 7 in the playoffs last year was proof. Sports are sports, and whether you prefer hockey over basketball or vice-versa you are going to have to pick and choose at some point. In an ideal world you wouldn't have to choose a team to give your money to on a twice-weekly basis. In an ideal world we would all be lottery winners and could attend every Oklahoma sports related event, but the cold hard reality is that the Barons will lose tickets to those choosing to see the Thunder. The overall package of the NBA is show-like and thus feels more important. They have the money to do it, so they will. Once again, this isn't a statement claiming that the AHL and NBA are in some kind of race against each other, but it is indeed a dollars and cents game. What gives me the best bang for my buck?

As Oklahomans embrace the fall schedule of sporting events, there will at least be a few weeks where worlds collide and downtown Oklahoma City will see a bustle of life unlike any other moment in its history. Dilemmas can all be overcome by flexibility and understanding; the city of Oklahoma City realizes this. They trust its citizens to coexist whether they're into slam dunks or slap shots. The growing NBA culture in Oklahoma City has transformed over the years. The thought of a franchise in Oklahoma seemed laughable only 10 years ago, and somehow it has worked.

It's great to have these types of problems in Oklahoma. Growing up in the city I remember a time when Bricktown was miserably run-down. It has come a long way, and still has miles to go, but dilemmas are a sign of progress and forward-thinking. So I'll pause, take a deep breath, and head to downtown Oklahoma City and embrace these so-called dilemmas with the knowledge that it's good for my city.

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