NBA's arrival not necessarily a drain on colleges
The main impact Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder sees from the Seattle SuperSonics' impending relocation to Oklahoma City is a little more pressure that he and his coaches do their jobs right.
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY — The proposition of an NBA franchise moving into the state doesn't scare Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder.
The main impact he sees from the Seattle SuperSonics' impending relocation to Oklahoma City is a little more pressure that he and his coaches do their jobs right.
"It makes it imperative that we run a successful program here, and I think as long as we have a successful basketball program, we'll have people in our arena," Holder said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
The natural inclination might be to believe that having a new professional franchise around would draw away from area colleges. But statistics don't necessarily support that theory.
When the New Orleans Hornets took up temporary residence in Oklahoma City for two seasons, it was hardly a drain on the basketball programs at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
The two teams had perennially been among the top 50 in the nation in attendance, averaging at least 10,000 fans per game in each of the past seven seasons, and that didn't change when the Hornets arrived in 2005.
The Cowboys' average attendance went up by more than 1,600 fans between the 2004-05 season, when the team was coming off a Final Four appearance, and the following year. There was a slight drop in the Hornets' second year, but the numbers were still higher than the two years before the NBA arrived.
At Oklahoma, which is about half as far from Oklahoma City, average attendance dropped by only 431 fans at Sooners' men's games in the Hornets' first season before making up about half that ground in Year 2. A bigger drop came last season, after the Hornets had left town.
Athletic director Joe Castiglione figures the Hornets had "little impact" on his program, which still has a waiting list of about 8,000 fans for football season tickets.
"Despite that, we will have to be very aggressive in developing ticket and sponsorship packages that remain competitive. There is another player in the marketplace and we recognize the challenge. The dynamic has changed," Castiglione said.
"We hope the addition of an NBA team will add to the sports entertainment in this area rather than cutting the support into smaller portions. We'll learn more about that in the next few years."
Competition is the name of the game when a new pro team rolls into town, said sports economist Rick Horrow. College and pro teams are vying for fans' entertainment dollars and sponsors' investments.
"It actually creates more choices because it causes all the teams to be competitive and sharper in their focus and, frankly, it creates a more positive experience for the fan because competition makes the product better," said Horrow, who was a consultant for Oklahoma City's initiatives to build and then expand the arena.
Horrow said college teams can thrive, though, if they're willing to work hard and be creative. That's how the University of Memphis wound up in better shape after the Grizzlies moved into town from Vancouver for the 2001-02 season.
The Tigers had seen attendance dip the previous season, coach John Calipari's first at the helm, despite having their first 20-win campaign in five years. Then, after the Grizzlies arrived, average attendance jumped by more than 5,000 in Calipari's second season.
"When they came to town, if Calipari and I had a magic wand, we truthfully probably would not have wanted them," Memphis athletic director R.C. Williams said.
Looking back, Williams said the Grizzlies' arrival has definitely had a positive impact on the Tigers' program. Beyond a potential attraction for recruits to hobnob with NBA players, the Tigers are also getting paid to use the new FedEx Forum.
Williams said he and Calipari routinely chat with Grizzlies' management, and there's been a more concentrated effort to sell the program to fans — always without disparaging the Grizzlies.
About the only negatives he has encountered have been an occasional made-for-TV home game that the Tigers have to turn down because of a conflict with the Grizzlies' schedule, and a small loss in corporate sponsorships right off the bat that has been made up over time.
"All in all, it's worked," Williams said.
Besides marking the last time an NBA team moved into a market with no other pro sports teams, Memphis also provides a decent reference point as a comparable market to Oklahoma City. Both have about 1.2 million residents in the metropolitan area and The Nielsen Co. ranks Oklahoma City as the 45th largest television market in the country with 676,850 households — about 9,000 more than Memphis.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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