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Official Review by Bradlee Ross, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The SpiritBank Event Center has hosted the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA’s Developmental League off and on since December 2008. Located in Bixby, Oklahoma just south of Tulsa, the arena seats 4,500 and has hosted numerous concerts and events over the years. The arena opened in 2008 at a cost of about $50 million.
Despite the arena’s current relationship with the 66ers, the two have had issues in the past. When the 66ers moved to the Tulsa area in 2008, they played their first season in Bixby. However, after that first season, the team relocated to the Tulsa Convention Center and filed a lawsuit against the owner of the SpiritBank Event Center. The team did not move back to Bixby until May 2012.
The Tulsa 66ers moved to the Tulsa area after being bought by the same ownership group that owns the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team is one of just four NBDL teams that are owned by NBA teams and is the Thunder’s sole minor league affiliate.
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".
The SpiritBank Event Center has little to set it apart in the way of the concessions that it offers. There is only a single concession stand to purchase from in the arena, although that is not a problem in an arena of this size. However, what is a problem is the lack of variety and originality in the food selection.
Those sports fans that enjoy having plenty of choices or something a bit unique will be disappointed. Other than your average popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, pizza, burgers and other standard concession fares, one will find little else. Other than a single Dippin' Dots stand near the main entrance, there is nothing else offered.
On top of this lack of variety, the prices charged are also a bit high when compared with similar venues in the area. The quality of the food is very good, but it does not justify higher prices. In this area, the SpiritBank Event Center falls far short.
Unfortunately, this venue does not redeem itself when it comes to atmosphere. Despite constant music and chants over the PA system, the energy in the place is lethargic at best and dead at worst. Plus, those music and chants themselves are played far too loud, which simply makes the experience more uncomfortable. This venue is almost trying too hard to create atmosphere, rather than letting the fans create it with their energy.
Also, many of the sound effects and funny chants are played at strange, head-scratch-inducing moments. The silver lining is the mascot, Rudy Roadrunner, who does his solid best to liven things up. However, the only time the place really gets going is when the cheerleaders fire free t-shirts into the crowd during a timeout.
The atmosphere is a great one for families. However, more could be done to cater to that and attract that type of consumer.
The best part of the experience this venue offers isn't actually inside the venue. The surrounding neighborhood is chock-full of great places to eat, and interesting things to do.
One's food options are practically unlimited. Whether you prefer cheaper, quicker options like Chick-fil-A and Taco Bueno or more pricey options like the Asahi Steakhouse and Sushi and the Genghis Grill, you will absolutely find a place that will satisfy whatever food craving you might be having at that moment. There are also plenty of midrange eating experiences like Applebee's. Your best bet would be Savastano's, a Chicago-style pizza place that is less than 50 yards from the arena.
There are also two hotels, the Hampton Inn & Suites and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, extremely nearby, and both offer a very comfortable hotel experience. There is a farmer's market and a movie theater just down the street as well. The best part is that all of these establishments, the restaurants, hotels and the rest, are all within about a mile of the arena.
The area is a part of the Tulsa metro that is still largely undeveloped, which means it will only get better in the future. It is also a very safe area and one of the nicer suburbs.
The fans attending are made up primarily of families with children, which is clearly what this arena is marketed towards. This leads to a crowd that is more miss than hit for most nights. During my most recent visit, a local college did give away shakers which, combined with all the kids in attendance, did make for a decent amount of noise.
Although the crowd is not roused the whole night, all seem to be enjoy themselves. They do get loud when the announcer asks them to, and on the occasion when something semi-exciting happens on the court. There are many empty seats, and the venue is probably more than half-empty most nights.
Another strong point of this venue is the access it provides. There are multiple entrances and exits, which obviously help those who dislike having to wait out in the cold while trying to get in. The restrooms are very clean and well-maintained. The basketball-designated part of the arena is pretty small, but it provides plenty of room for what it needs.
There is also plenty of parking thanks to a garage next door. Parking costs $5. There are many restaurants nearby where one could park, but they seem to be pretty strict and vigilant in not allowing parking for the games in their lots. Also, the garage does not line up with the main entrance, so one would have to walk around if the side entrance is unavailable.
Tickets to see the Tulsa 66ers at the SpiritBank Event Center are pretty inexpensive, allowing a family of four to see a game for about $50-$60. However, there still is not much return on even that small of an investment. It is good for families who are looking for a fun, inexpensive night with their kids. Otherwise, there are plenty of other, better attractions to patronize in the T-town area.
One point for a program called The Brushing Buddies club, which is a club for children that gives them free stuff and provides in-game activities for them to get involved in.
Another point for the mascot, who is great. Rudy dances with groups of kids in the stands, poses for goofy pictures and does anything else he can to get the crowd going.
SpiritBank Event Center has the potential to be one of the better minor league basketball venues in its region. With the great neighborhood and access, all of the logistical requirements are taken care of. However, it is missing that essential spark that every fan wants when they go to a sporting event. Considering the somewhat contentious relationship in the past, the SpiritBank Event Center could lose the Tulsa 66ers again if things don't turn around.
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10438 S 82nd E Ave
Tulsa, OK 74133
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S Regal Blvd
Tulsa, OK 74133
8405 E 102nd St S
Tulsa, OK 74133