Lost in all of the Josh Childress and Brandon Jennings to Europe talk has been the number of people who have signed up for the Okalahoma City ‘Whatchamacallits’ ticket request list. Team chairman Clay Bennett said yesterday that the list is approaching 18,000. That’s 928 more people than the capacity of the dilapidated KeyArena.
KeyArena was the smallest venue in the NBA and proposals for expanding the arena were front and center in Bennett’s decision to move the team. Those proposals included plans to add more seating, new restaurants, shops, and a practice court. Unfortunately for the Sonics faithful, Bennett and Seattle’s State Legislature failed to come to agreemnt on the renovations and Bennett was provided an out to move the team to Oklahoma City.
The SuperSonics were one of the poorest franchises in the NBA and languished in the bottom third of the NBA’s Attendance Report long before Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics. Some of that should be attributed to poor management decisions by former Owners Barry Ackerly and Howard Schultz and General Managers Wally Walker and Rick Sund. But the Sonics won 52 games in the 2004-2005, and yet they placed 21st in the league’s attendance ratings. On the surface, one could use that in an argument justifying Bennett’s move to Oklahoma City. After all, tickets are the lifeblood of an NBA franchise and every owner should have the right to a profitable team.
But upon closer examination, KeyArena was filled to 96.9 percent capacity that season. A mark that was eighth best in the league. Two spots higher than the Phoenix Suns — who won an NBA best 62 games and featured MVP Steve Nash. In fact, the Sonics ranked in the top half of the NBA and filled KeyArena to 90 percent or better capacity from 2002-2003 to 2006-2007. Seattle fell to 78.2 percent capacity in 2007-2008 — due in large part to Clay Bennett and his minions torpedoing the franchise.
Owners, General Managers, and fans share the responsibility to maintain a successful NBA franchise. The SuperSonics fans kept up their end of the bargain. Despite a mediocre product, the Sonics faithful filled KeyArena to the best of their ability. Unfortunately for them, Seattle’s ownership and front office betrayed them.
Oklahoma City’s Ford Center has a capacity of 19,599. In order to fill the Ford Center to 96.9 percent capacity, Oklahoma City will need to fill roughly 991 more ticket requests. Possible, but what happens when the excitement of a new team dies down? Will Oklahoma City’s fans remain as loyal as the Sonics fans were? Seattle won 17 fewer games (35) in 2005-2006 than they did in 2004-2005 and KeyArena was still filled to 95.3 percent capacity.
Clay Bennett and his ownership group will undoubtedly see increased ticket revenue next season. But they’ll soon learn that you can’t put a pricetag on loyalty.