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When Oklahoma City Thunder made the NBA finals for the first time this year, metro restaurant and bar owners seized an opportunity to hold impromptu watch parties and bring, sometimes, hundreds of people to their businesses on what otherwise might have been quiet nights.
The increase in business in June also helped nurse some wounds for businesses that suffered when, due to the league lockout, the regular season did not begin until the end of December 2011.
The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has determined the economic impact for each home game is $1.2 million. With half a season missed, those dollars did not flow in.
Patrick Ireland opened Saints, 1715 N.W. 16th, last June after the Thunder had been eliminated from that season’s playoffs. The Irish pub and restaurant was not designed as a sports bar, but Ireland installed a large flat-screen television in the dining area and another over the bar. Although Thunder
watching was not intended to be Saints’ bread and butter, Ireland was ready to pick up some business on game nights.
“It was really unfortunate and sad that the lockout shortened the season,” he says.
‘Word of mouth’
As opponent after opponent was felled by the Thunder, Ireland found he was getting a bit more business on game nights from those looking to cheer on the team as they enjoyed a few drinks or dinner.
“When people began noticing how well they were doing, that’s when they really started to come out,” he says. “For every game, we would have at least two or three tables that would come out just to watch the game.”
As the team barreled through the playoffs and into the finals, all bets were off.
“It was hard to get a head count because people moved around a lot,” Ireland says. “But we had about 125 people each game.”
Cheering crowds in Thunder blue swelled at Saints, but no concerted effort was made to advertise the watch parties at Saints, other than Facebook and Twitter.
“It was really word of mouth,” Ireland says.
To appease the Thunder madness, Ireland had an idea: He talked with his beer distributor who was able to dye the Pabst Blue Ribbon blue, or more specifically, Thunder blue.
The Thunder-themed option paid tribute to the team, and took a jab at the infamous power forward for the Dallas Mavericks, the team that knocked the Thunder out of last year’s Western Conference Finals and was the eventual championship team. This year the Mavericks were the Thunder’s first opponent.
“Toward the beginning of the playoffs, we liked to say [the beers] were made out of the tears of Dirk Nowitzki,” he says.
A few miles away at Will Rogers Theatre, 4322 N. Western, Chef Kurt Fleischfresser and his Western Concepts Group held Thunder watch parties in the Lobby Bar and in the theater. Encouraged by the staff and fans, the theater was turned into a viewing room, along with televisions tuned to the game throughout the Lobby Bar and adjoining Tasting Room.
“What we did was really impromptu,” Fleischfresser says. “It created some excitement and fun at a reasonable price.”
For a few bucks, patrons could get a hamburger or hot dog, grab a beer and cheer for the team. The events averaged between 100 and 200 people each game night. Fleischfresser says with lower-priced options, it wasn’t so much a money-making venture, but a chance to bring fans together in a friendly environment. On June 14, hundreds of fans in Thunder blue crowded around the theater’s neon marquee, which read “Thunder Up” and posed for an aerial shot. Fleischfresser says it was a good time for the staff and fans.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, this is a great time for us to make some money,’” he says. “It was more like, ‘We’re not a sports bar, but we want to be part of all the excitement.’” Even with the success at the games, Fleischfresser says Lobby Bar won’t be converting to a sports bar anytime soon, but when next season arrives, it likely will repeat the parties if the team again makes the playoffs. If the people want it, Fleischfresser will be ready to deliver.
“It will really be fan-driven,” he says.
Downtown at Iguana Mexican Grill, 9 N.W. Ninth, Robert Painter and company seized the Thunder’s first finals appearance as an opportunity to host an outdoor party for each game.
“We’re Downtown, and we decided that since we had a big parking lot, we’d have some fun,” he says.
That fun was made possible with the help of Iguana’s neighbor to the west, the Womb gallery. The Flaming Lips loaned Iguana a large screen that was set up in the parking lot, and Painter got a sponsor, Diosa Tequila, to purchase a projector.
“It was great, because we weren’t out any money,” he says.
On average, Painter says about 125 people turned out for each game to eat tacos, enjoy drinks and cheer for the team.
“They ate, they drank, and they stayed around,” he says.
Next season, Painter says, he will look at the possibility of hosting more outdoor viewings of Thunder games. And while the extra business was nice, Painter joked that it certainly would not allow him to rest on his laurels.
“I’m not going to retire because of this,” he says.