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In 1993, the municipal government of Oklahoma City created Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), which financed new and upgraded sports and entertainment facilities in the city’s downtown area. One of the results of this program was the Oklahoma City Arena, which opened in 2002 after three years of construction. Named the Ford Center for its first eight years, it initially housed the Oklahoma City Blazers, a CHL team.
When Hurricane Katrina forced the New Orleans Hornets to move temporarily, the arena was able to step up and host them for two seasons and local fans adopted the team as their own. That experience convinced an OKC-based ownership group that the town could support a professional sports franchise, and they soon after bought the Seattle SuperSonics and moved them to Oklahoma City, renaming them the Thunder.
When the arena was built, it only met minimum NBA and NHL specifications, lacking more costly amenities such as luxury boxes as there was no guarantee of a major league tenant. However, the facility had the ability to add such features should a professional sports team relocate to the city. While the Supersonics acquisition was being negotiated, the local government placed a sales tax initiative on the city election ballot which passed by a 62% to 38% margin. This tax extension funded the new amenities, which were completed in 2009 and left the arena as one of the best in the NBA.
In 2011, the Chesapeake Energy Corporation took over naming rights and the venue will be known as the Chesapeake Energy Arena until at least 2023.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As I made my way around the lower concourse, I saw dozens of distinct food offerings. Just a taste of what is available: gourmet candy such as chocolate espresso beans and yogurt raisins, (2 bags for $6); Philly cheesesteaks ($6.50); a variety of wraps for $7, baked potatoes with various toppings at $7.50, and even a $4 pasta salad. Of course, the usual burgers and dogs were also present, giving you far more options than you could possibly enjoy in a single game. There are even a couple of sit-down restaurants including the Old No. 7 Club as well as the Center Court Grill. Get there early and walk around to see all your options before making a choice.
Beer is of course available as well, with bottles going for a reasonable $6.50 while draft is $7. Soda is $3.75 for a regular cup or $5.50 for the souvenir type.
There are a number of nicknames applied to the stadium, with the most accurate being Loud City, which describes the upper deck. With a population of 7,631, Loud City is responsible for keeping the decibel level uncomfortably high and they do a very good job at it.
The pregame ceremony is a tribute to Oklahoma, not just the city but the state as well. Played on the top-notch high-definition scoreboard, the video demonstrated the close-knit community feeling that really set the mood for the game.
There are your typical promotions during the game such as half court shots and t-shirt guns, which keep things lively. The only negative here is the constant music during the game action. I find this completely unnecessary and almost distracting. When you have one of the best players in the world on the court in Kevin Durant, you don't need music to drum up excitement. Let the action flow naturally and save the noise for the breaks.
Located on the southwestern edge of the historic Bricktown District, the stadium is across the street from the Cox Convention Center, which is home to the Oklahoma City Barons. The rest of Bricktown is on the other side of Gaylord Avenue and consists of dozens of eateries, bars, and clubs with Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse perhaps the most popular. The centerpiece of the area though is the Bricktown Ballpark, home of the AAA Redhawks and the catalyst for the revitalization of the downtown core. You can easily spend a day here before the game, with the American Banjo Museum a unique destination.
Of course, no mention of Oklahoma City's attractions should omit the memorial to the tragic bombing that shocked the nation in 1995. Located just a few blocks north of the arena, the memorial is a somber reminder of the worst that humanity has to offer as well as an affirmation that we will overcome whatever terrible events befall us.
I've already mentioned those inhabitants of Loud City, but the entire fan base is great. I witnessed the Miami Heat visiting and this was clearly the showcase game of the season and the fans responded, with most dressed in Thunder jerseys and hats and making noise well before the game started. After tip-off, fans remained standing and cheering until the first Thunder points. Even when the outcome was decided, most fans remained to watch the rest of the game. When Dwyane Wade fouled out near the end of the game, the fans cheered, waving goodbye to him even though they were down 14 points.
They were also chanting "Ref, you suck!" throughout the game. Often I find this to be unnecessary but in this case, it was accurate as the officiating was brutal and the fans wasted no opportunity to make their opinion known.
It seems like fans are still involved in the honeymoon phase with their team, which is understandable as they only had to endure one poor season before the Thunder turned into a winning club. Fans were friendly and having fun and although the result wasn't to their liking, there wasn't any negativity towards the few visiting supporters.
There is limited parking available in the Cox Convention Center but most fans seem to find parking slightly further away, with dozens of lots close by. I saw one lot for $20 and another for $5 as well as some free street parking, so drive around if you get there early enough. The streets are crowded at that time and traffic moves slowly, but there were no jams that prevented me from getting where I wanted to go. If you can get there 90 minutes before game time, you should have no problem.
There are several entrances into the stadium each of which moves quickly. The stadium has a relatively small footprint and concourses are tighter than usual but they are not overly crowded. Washrooms are clean and I didn't see any lineups.
Ticket sales are limited to residents of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas, so travelers might be forced to resort to the secondary market.
When they are available, tickets are reasonably priced, with the best value being balcony seats going for $45. There is a single separate row called premium balcony at $80, but the advantages are not quite worth the extra cash.
As mentioned, there were no luxury boxes built during the original construction. The advantage of this setup is that there is no separate club level, rather the club seats are separated from those below them by a small wall. This keeps Loud City closer to the action, so the fans there have a bigger impact on the game than they might in other venues.
Lower level tickets are obviously more expensive, and if you want to sit down here, avoid the corner sections as the angles to the court are not good.
With reasonable parking nearby, food not outrageously overpriced, and one of the best teams in the NBA, this is a very good investment for a basketball fan.
Just outside the northeast corner is a statue that commemorates the 1989 Olympic Festival that was organized by Thunder owner Clay Bennett, then a 29-year-old upstart. The event brought OKC to national attention and was the first step in the city becoming a sports travel destination.
The Jim Thorpe Association Gallery is located on the concourse and worth a visit. The JTA is a local civic and charity organization that is heavily involved in the sports scene. This small display includes some historical notes on Native American history from the area as well as some information on Thorpe himself, who was born in Prague, Oklahoma (about 60 miles east of OKC).
There is also a Spirit Zone on each level where you can get face tattoos or have caricatures of yourself drawn. Naturally this is more appealing to the kids.
Finally, it was Valentine's Day during my latest visit and the Thunder Girls were handing out Hershey Kisses on the concourse. Nice.
Overall, Chesapeake Energy Arena is a great place to watch basketball. The quibbles that knock a point off some of the FANFARE rankings are minor. In general, the passionate fans, great food and a superb location make a trip to Loud City a must for any sports traveler.
The Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City opened its doors on June 8th, 2002. Behind Hurricane Katrina, the beautiful $89 million facility is the second main reason why it is the home to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Chesapeake Energy Arena has built new renovations during most off seasons and is growing just as fast as the city.
After I proclaimed I would never-ever-ever see another NBA game after an awful visit to a Phoenix Suns game, I found myself in OKC on a Sunday evening in Nov, 2012 with nothing to do AND my hotel was right next door to the Chesapeake Energy Arena AND the Thunder were in town. So, I purchased a $10 seat and attended a Thunder game and was much more satisfied with this NBA visit than the one at the Phoenix Suns game.
They do wand you during the security check. The folks doing their job at this security check are much more professional, courteous, and personal than those in Phoenix.
Food choices are plentiful at the arena.
The street in front of the arena is closed off pre-game and there are plenty of fun activities on the street: food, drink, face painting, basketball free-throws, bouncy inflatable’s for the kids. At the game, I had great neighbors in the area in which I was sitting.
OKC is a fantastic city to tour. Some recommendations: OKC National Memorial & Museum, American Banjo Museum, Bricktown, Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Eating and drinking establishments with walking distance (1/2 mile) not included in this review are: Tapwerks and Bricktown Brewery and Coach’s.
I didn’t have an issue with access to the arena as I flew into the Will Rogers OKC airport and took a taxi to the Courtyard Marriott. There’s an OKC trolley system to get you from select points in the city with a stop a few yards of the hotel. The Courtyard Marriott is walking distance to many of the ‘Bricktown’ restaurants and OKC arenas.
I’ll be going back to OKC just because I have not yet seen all the city has to offer and I fell in love with the city. My recommendation, if you go for a game, make time to visit at least the OKC National Memorial & Museum when in town.
I can't say enough good things about the experience my son and I had during our visit to Chesapeake Energy Arena during the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
On a whim, I bought tickets to games 3 & 4 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals between the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, with the Spurs leading the series 2-0. We drove the 600+ miles from Birmingham the day before Game 3. The day of the game we got to Bricktown early to get the gameday experience. Outside the arena, the TNT crew (Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith & Shaquille O'Neal) created a ton of excitement. Thunder personnel passed out rally towels to all fans entering the arena.
Inside, for both games, every seat had souvenir Thunder t-shirts on them with a different logo for each game. The pre-game videos were what has become typical at NBA games - highlight dunks accompanied by loud rock music. Player introductions included fireworks exploding inside the arena. Typical stuff but the OKC fans responded better than most and set the tone early.
Game 3 was a Thunder blowout. Game 4 was another Thunder win but required a comeback and went down to the last minute. In both games the crowd stayed until the end and were in full throat throughout. The atmosphere throughout both games was as good as any I've experienced - probably enhanced by being able to share it with my son (then 15 yrs old) on our first road trip together.
There was a wide variety of food offerings but we settled for the standard burgers & chicken tenders which were good but nothing outstanding.
OKC does have a nice variety of things to do on off days but we made it a priority to visit the OKC Memorial and it was an incredibly moving experience. Many Americans forget that prior to 9/11 there was OKC and the Memorial serves as a vivid reminder of the tragedy. It is tastefully and respectfully done and if you're in the area you owe it to yourself to visit.
The ticket were expensive because I had to purchase them on StubHub but for WCF games they were not outrageous. They were midway up in the upper bowl but there really isn't a bad seat in the house. The arena was clean and all lit up for the national media.
Overall, this was a great experience and we are looking forward to returning in 2013.
7 South Mickey Mantle Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73104
9 E Sheridan Ave
Oklahoma City, OK 73104
2 W Reno Ave
Oklahoma City, OK 73102