Bob Funk Jr. & Mayor Mick Cornett. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.
When it comes to professional sports in the Oklahoma City area, no one unfurls a trombone parade quite like Mick Cornett. Pegged as "the face" for luring and launching the Oklahoma City Thunder in Bricktown, it's hard not to like Mick as a person. Most overlook his politics, and embrace him as the staunchest leader of the pro sports mantra in the unlikeliest of NBA markets. It wasn't always that way. As a matter of fact, in a pre-Katrina world, it was Mick that partially led the charge for an NHL team to hit this city square in the eyes. And for good reason. The hockey history in this state was pretty solid. Good attendance, loyal followings, and even good play on the ice resulted in the Central Hockey League being a permanent fixture in Oklahoma City for quite some time. Not to mention the history of other franchises and leagues playing in this city. But the pro sports gods had a completely different idea. Long story short, the city of OKC is NBA mad. Tickets sell, the team is good, everyone is happy. But suddenly Mick has become the Dr. Phil of mayors. Qualified to comment on making a downtown great, but really a person that was blessed by circumstance and chance.
And so Cornett gets lobbed questions about retooling, reinvigorating, and regrowing a city. Most recently, Bud Kennedy at the Star-Telegram gave Mayor Cornett a ring, and asked him about a topic of this nature. Mainly it was in regards to Mr. Kennedy's proposal to move the NHL Dallas Stars to neighboring Ft. Worth. Here are a few quotes from the major of Oklahoma City in that interview:
"There is no question to me the Stars would flourish in Fort Worth as opposed to Dallas," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said Thursday by phone.
"Fort Worth is a model for Oklahoma City in so many ways, and vice versa. At first, I had a tough time convincing anyone outside Oklahoma we had more than a college sports market. But there, you've got the whole metropolitan area."
The full quote roundup from that interview isn't much more than what you see above. Albeit short in nature, this interview struck me as odd. And for several reasons.
Choosing Ft. Worth over Dallas for a hockey team, a top-tiered professional one for that matter, is completely different to that of the situation in Oklahoma City. The closest destination for top level pro sports in the state of Oklahoma was Dallas (2.5 hours away). The NBA scene in Oklahoma City was birthed with baby steps, and with no competing entity of its kind within a short driving distance. The city also got a trial run when the New Orleans Hornets were moved temporarily following Hurricane Katrina. This ultimately "sold" the NBA and its governing body on the idea of basketball in Oklahoma being a long term, worthy investment. And thus comparing Ft. Worth to Oklahoma City as a model for development (or vice versa) is a terrible comparison. The Ft. Worth area is roughly 40 minutes from Dallas. In Dallas (+ surrounding area) there are four major sports teams from four major sporting leagues. Oklahoma City had none.
The second thing worth mentioning is actually a response of Mike Barack, President of the Texas Brahmas Hockey Club which, ironically enough, played in Ft. Worth before moving to North Richland Hills. He says,
"In his May 4 column, Bud Kennedy suggested that the Dallas Stars should relocate to Fort Worth, claiming that Tarrant County could support a professional hockey team. However, Kennedy omitted the simple fact that there is a pro team in Tarrant County, and it has been here for more than a decade."
"The Texas Brahmas of the Central Hockey League called Fort Worth home from 1997 until 2006 and remain a community fixture since relocating to North Richland Hills in 2007. The team has earned five consecutive post-season bids, including a Ray Miron President's Cup championship in 2008-09."
"While the Star-Telegram covers the Brahmas, there are members of the media who fail to recognize the club's on-ice achievements, high quality of play and community contributions directly in the heart of Tarrant County.
By the way, since leaving the CHL, Oklahoma City's attendance has dropped dramatically. Rivalries for the Brahmas -- such as Allen, Tulsa and Wichita -- cannot be underestimated."
Indeed, the Brahmas have been a mainstay in that area for quite some time. The Oklahoma City Blazer fan of old remembers this team well. But since this is an Oilers blog that covers the Barons, notice the quick jab at the current state of hockey in Oklahoma City (hint: since leaving CHL; attendance has dropped dramatically). Something that Mick seemingly didn't point out, but was certainly a direct result of pleading for an NBA franchise.
I'll give Mayor Mick a little leeway here. He's a fan of everything about Oklahoma City, and likely mentioned the Barons. As a matter of fact, he's been good to this site in the past. I'll assume that the author at the Star-Telegram piece left out the part about how awesome AHL hockey has been in OKC. But quite frankly, other than the play on the ice, why would he mention minor league hockey as being a success? Why would he point out that there are 20,000 fans in attendance for Thunder games, but barely 2,500 for the Barons (across the street; and substantially cheaper). Perhaps he knows that there is a blessing and a curse to luring a major pro sport to another city.
I think it's odd to ask Cornett for comments on this matter, as a matter of fact I'll call it "a reach". Mainly because (a) the circumstances of the team moving are vastly different (b) because it's a move of around 40 miles, and (c) the move will likely not be more successful down the road than keeping the team in Dallas proper.
I'm certainly reading between the lines of this particular situation. But it's hard not to. I'll not take shots at Mayor Cornett, nor will I blame the Star-Telegram for tailoring the conversation for their writes. Instead I'll point out the inevitable possibility, that maybe, just maybe, certain cities can only handle so much professional sports -- even if of various levels. Sure it works in some markets, and indeed the three we have in OKC (minor league baseball, minor league hockey, and major league basketball) shouldn't be too hard of a sell. But as we've seen the last two years -- and there is still time for things to change -- it's been tough. Tough for a city to support multiple sporting events. And so I can empathize with the Brahmas President who insists that hockey is alive, well, and worth keeping around in its current state in other parts of the north Texas area. Because perhaps he's learned a thing or two from Oklahoma City. Change is good -- just in small doses.