Compromised Branding Concerns OKC Mayor
Oklahoma City’s mayor, Mick Cornett, does not mince words when it comes to the failure by the NBA owners and the players’ union to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.
“I think the players have to, at some point, come to a conclusion that this may not be as good a deal as they had, but it’s still a pretty good deal,” Cornett told HOOPSWORLD. “The owners, to a certain extent, do think in business terms. We all want to pretend it’s a sport, but it is definitely a sport played inside a business. And the owners, who run the business, say the business model is broken and it’s got to be corrected.
“You have the players who don’t want to agree to the facts or disagree with the facts.”
Prior to the last round of labor talks breaking down – which led to the union disbanding in favor of legal remedies – Cornett told Liz Claman of Fox Sports that “players have been misled by their agents.” We asked him to expand on that statement, and he obliged with specificity.
“I think a lot of the issues that they’re (agents) concerned with right now have to do with players relocating from one team to another and how salary cap limitations might limit a large-market team from trying to secure a small-market teams’ players in driving up the salaries for the players as a whole.
“The agents obviously are very interested in those things continuing to happen,” he added.
“And I think the outside is…think of all the money that’s already been lost right now for the players,” Cornett said. “They’ve lost, probably at this point, hundreds of millions of dollars in pure salary. How is that going to be recouped?”
The mayor talked about those folks beyond the players, owners, agents and fans who are experiencing real hardships attributable to the lockout.
“Then you have the real victims in this: the few hundred people who work in the arena on game nights as part-time employment. I know some of these people. They’ve given up their part-time jobs for basketball season – that’s what they do at this time of year – and all of the sudden, they’re not working. And it’s right here at the holiday time, too.”
On the subject of dollars and cents, he estimates Oklahoma City loses $1.0 million to $1.5 million for every missed home game; surprisingly, the economic impact to the city by lost NBA games thus far is not the mayor’s primary concern.
“I still think that the larger impact is the lack of publicity that we get,” explained Cornett. “And the branding of our city that’s on the jerseys when they’re playing on worldwide television. That’s a bigger impact for us. What the team does for us is just drive our brand, and the recognition of us as a growing cosmopolitan city, I think, equals or exceeds the economic impact.”
Oklahoma City is relatively new to the world of professional basketball; any suspension or slowing down of the desired branding is indeed problematic.
In an unexpected chain of events involving a hurricane and relocation of the New Orleans Hornets, OKC proved they were fully prepared to support their own NBA team. Many doubted the ability of such a team to thrive in another small market, but those apprehensions were soon put to rest.
Oklahoma City fans embraced this young team immediately and have rewarded them with regular sell-outs. Last season, they were league-ranked sixth in attendance percentage. In three seasons, they jumped from a 23-59 record to a team with a 55-27 record vying for the Western Conference title.
Mayor Cornett recounted the nature of conversations with NBA commissioner David Stern which ultimately resulted in the Thunder coming to Oklahoma City.
“In November of ’05, the commissioner came here and said we were at the top of the relocation list. So we had gone from – in less than a year – (Stern) telling me he did not have a team for me, to the stance that was ‘Oklahoma City’s gonna get a team. Maybe not this team, but they’re gonna get a team’.
“Because it’s an unprecedented situation, it’s not something anyone could have foreseen. What you had was a proven NBA market that didn’t have a permanent team. And I don’t know that you can find another situation where that’s the case,” he shared.
The widespread popularity of the Thunder can be traced to not only the sudden rise in the win column, but to the group of likeable and principled players assembled. Kevin Durant, the face of the franchise with a never-ending list of accomplishments in his short four-year career, quickly won the hearts of Oklahoma City fans.
Cornett cautions fans not to despair should Durant or other Thunder players elect to play overseas during the lockout.
“I don’t think anyone believes that they won’t play here when the NBA comes back,” he declared. “It doesn’t feel like we’re losing anybody. It just doesn’t feel like we’ve lost them. It just feels like the offseason. They’re just over there goofing off.”
Then Cornett, a Thunder season ticket-holder, shared even more from a personal standpoint.
“I’ve talked to the NBA people about allowing these players to play so many games in the offseason for All-Star teams and different exhibitions, and their reaction is ‘You can’t stop these guys from playing. If you told them they couldn’t play in a real game, they’d play in a gym somewhere.’
“They play basketball,” he continued. “That’s all they live and breathe and want to do. And at some point, at that level, you have to learn to accept it, that these players are gonna be doing stuff in the offseason. You can’t let it get to you.
“Oh yeah, it’s my instinct that they should sit in a La-Z-Boy in the offseason and rest. That’s my perception, and obviously not theirs.”
We asked Mayor Cornett if he thought the NBA’s global brand was being damaged by the missed games.
“It’s a hit,” he answered. “Whatever impact there is, they can recoup. They can get it back in a relatively short amount of time. I don’t think they run the risk of some long-term issue here, because the game is still very strong. The stars are very marketable. I don’t sense outrage from fans…at least at this point.”
Perhaps a feeling of collective outrage has not been reached; however, a level of disinterest has been detected by some which may prove more difficult to combat once the season finally begins.
In any case, Cornett believes the Thunder faces no danger of a deserting fan base as a result of the lockout.
“I think our fans will bounce back quicker than others, so I don’t know what the repercussions will be. It won’t be good for any of the franchises, but I suspect our fans will bounce back more quickly than the other franchises out there.”
It would be great if all thirty teams could put that to the test as soon as possible.