Marketing ticket sales for a brand-new NBA team such as the Oklahoma City Thunder in its first year could have resulted in a seaon-ticket sellout in the metro area alone. But when an entire state, including rural areas, helped to bring that same team in, a different challenge was gained.
Because of that, marketing strategies include increasing sales and involvement from fans outside Oklahoma City, especially those in rural areas hundreds of miles away. More than a quarter of all single-game tickets are sold to fans outside metro ZIP codes.
"On average, 30% of all single-game tickets sold last year and the first half of this year were sold outside the 30-mile radius of Oklahoma City," says Brian Byrnes, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Oklahoma City Thunder. "We are encouraged by the fact that there is that much of an appetite in the state outside of Oklahoma City."
In all, fans have traveled from 290 different Oklahoma communities to watch the Thunder play.
"There is an acute understanding in our organization that we are here as a franchise because the entire state stood up and supported this," Byrnes says. "It was a real political, civic and business statewide movement, and when we got the team, we never lost sight that this wasn't just an Oklahoma City team, but a state team."
FANS FROM AFAR
Brian Beaver of Enid bought season tickets as soon as the NBA franchise made its home in Oklahoma City. He says he drives an hour and a half from Enid to catch the games, and does it often, usually with people dying to travel with him.
"I don't mind the drive at all," Beaver says. "Not very often has Oklahoma stepped out on a limb like it did to get the Thunder here, and now that we have a team, I feel we all need to support it."
He isn't alone. Fans not only drive from across the state, but even from Kansas to watch the games. For some, it's only for a single match or two. Others hold season tickets.
After the franchise was approved for Oklahoma City, the decision was made to cap season ticket sales at 13,000, even though Ford Center holds 17,000.
"We wanted to have an inventory for single-ticket sales to provide for the single-game buyer who may not have the time or the resources to go to every game," says Byrnes. "In part, that's directed to the single buyer everywhere in the state."
Beaver says he personally knows of eight different couples from Enid who travel regularly to Oklahoma City to watch games. He has run into friends from Tulsa, as well.
"If it's a weekend game, we'll stay and make a night of it," he says. "If it's during the week, it's not a big deal to just drive back after the game."
Reaching those rural fans meant traveling for the Thunder's sales and marketing staff. First, media and broadcasting established a presence throughout the state, bringing the games first to fans over the airwaves.
"We have a radio network through our affiliates in Tulsa, Muskogee, Sapulpa, Vinita, Lawton, Woodward and Elk City," Byrnes says. "Those cities provided a launching pad, and we then created an aggressive relationship with Fox Sports Oklahoma."
Then came the caravan. In June 2009, MidFirst Bank and Oklahoma City Thunder created the "Thunder Summer Caravan," a 12-stop state tour, bringing a carnival atmosphere with interactive games, contests, giveaways, food and an appearance by a member of the Thunder's broadcast team. Some locations featured mascot Rumble, the Thunder Girls and the Thunder Drummers.
"It was a means to connect, and it became very popular," said Byrnes. "It was a way for us to create a footprint in these communities. We did it with frequency, so we had the momentum throughout the course of that summer."
The 2009-2010 season has seen eight of the 11 home games sold out at Ford Center, and each date averages 2,500 single-game buyers. Season tickets were still being sold prorated in December, and Byrnes says they will continue to do so throughout the midseason.
"It puts a little stress on sales to move that many single-game tickets 41 nights out of a year, but if we look back seven to 10 years from now, we'd like to see that people came back because it was affordable and exciting," he says.