Paycom Center – Oklahoma City Thunder
Photos by Dave Cottenie and Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Paycom Center 100 W Reno Ave Oklahoma City, OK 73102
Year Opened: 2002 Capacity: 18,203
In 2005, Oklahoma City partook in what can only be described as an NBA audition. With the devastation of Hurricane Katrina displacing the New Orleans Hornets, the team found a temporary home at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. Two seasons of NBA basketball in the Sooner State proved to be a runaway success and the relatively small market in OKC would not be a hindrance to NBA basketball in the future. Oklahoma businessman Clay Bennett would swoop in and purchase the Seattle SuperSonics to relocate them to Oklahoma City. The Thunder were blessed with some serious young talent early on and made some strong playoff runs in front of some rabid crowds, making the move to Oklahoma City seem like the perfect spot for the NBA.
Home for the Thunder is Paycom Center. Originally the Ford Center and later the Chesapeake Energy Center, Paycom Center was built in 2002 and is located on the edge of Bricktown in downtown Oklahoma City.
Food & Beverage 4
Concessions at Paycom Center are pretty solid. There is nothing that will blow fans away, but there is plenty of variety to satisfy all. Many of the concession stands have basketball-related names to give the arena a little more flare. Fast Break offers a variety of hot dogs; Alley Coop has chicken wings and hot chicken; Slam Burger has a variety of burgers; Block City has cheesesteaks and other sandwiches; Taco Mayo has TexMex cuisine; Chop ‘n Block has chopped beef sandwiches and smoked sausages; and Mazzio Pizza offers pizza from a local chain. Paycom Center also has two sit-down, full-service restaurants for patrons. The Old No. 7 and Michelob Ultra Club are near section 116. Coca-Cola products are on the menu for the soft drink of choice and Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra are among the beer choices.
Paycom Center is located in Downtown Oklahoma City, adjacent to the Bricktown neighborhood. The exterior of the building is attractive with a rounded, brown brick façade with some glass in spots. It is not overwhelmingly beautiful or original, however, by no means is it unattractive. In the northeast corner of the grounds stands a statue of two torchbearers, commemorating the 1989 Olympic Festival held in Oklahoma City. Fans may also want to get a picture in the giant Thunder Muskoka chair on the north side of the arena.
Entering the Paycom Center will bring fans to the main concourses, past the escalators which go to the suite level on the second floor and upper deck on the third. The concourses do not waste any real estate and are filled with murals and team markings. There are several makeshift photo ops and spots for the kids to make signs and participate in some games. Autograph sessions are held outside of section 116. At the game being reviewed, the autograph session was with the Thunder Girls cheerleading team.
Entering the seating bowl, fans are welcomed with a two-tier seating bowl with suites and club seats between the top and bottom levels. The court runs from southwest to northeast and is the spot to get the perfect center-court logo. The southeast side of the arena has the lone retired number banner for the Thunder belonging to Nick Collison, who came with the team from Seattle and proceeded to play another decade in Oklahoma City. The northern end of the arena has the team banners for Division Championships and the 2011-2012 Western Conference Championships.
Although it seems that officially the Thunder have other titles and retired numbers when they were in Seattle, there is no signage acknowledging those. The center court video board is not overwhelming as seems to be the trend in the NBA but is adequate in size and clear. There is an LED ribbon that encircles the third deck fascia and there are plenty of other, smaller LED boards around the seating bowl. Each entrance into the seating bowl also has lights above it, which the production team uses plenty of.
The gameday atmosphere is what one would expect for an NBA game. There is nearly non-stop action including promotions and entertainment. The in-game host attempts to rile up the crowd to aspire to the “Loud City” moniker plastered throughout the arena. Rumble the Bison has plenty of spots throughout the game to interact with fans and partake in promotions. The O-City Dance Crew performs during the pregame but dances off to the side of the end seats throughout the game, not very noticeable.
The Thunder Girls help run promotions. The Thunder use the lights in the arena a lot and use the Oklahoma Blue light for big moments to pump up the crowd. The most unique aspect of the pregame is the leading of an invocation at the beginning of the game, led by a pastor, praying for safety for the players and participants, and thanks for the opportunity to watch the action. The Thunder go above and beyond to connect with the fan and give them everything they need to enjoy the game. Free programs are available at the door and are typical of the free program.
The pregame email the Thunder send out has a ton of information including where the pregame activities can be found, who the halftime act is, and where the photo ops can be found. The QR code on the armrests in the seating bowl offers all the gameday info including lineups and stats.
Paycom Center is located near Downtown Oklahoma City, adjacent to the Bricktown neighborhood. There is plenty to see and do in the area and there are a plethora of eating and drinking establishments within walking distance of Paycom Center. Spark, Bob’s Steak & Chop House, Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse, Texadelphia, and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar are all very close. Right across the street from the arena are the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory.
Other tourist options include the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. For those looking for other sporting options in the area, checking out the Oklahoma City Blue of the G-League can be done at the same arena. Beginning in the spring, the Oklahoma City Dodgers play at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark which is two blocks away from Paycom Center.
Otherwise, heading to nearby Norman to take in an Oklahoma Sooners game in football or basketball or any of the other sports they offer, maybe the answer. For those wishing to stay near the Paycom Center, the Omni Oklahoma City and Fairfield Inn & Suites Oklahoma City are mere steps from the arena.
When the Thunder moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City, they were one of the top-drawing teams in the league. Since then, there has been a significant talent drain from Oklahoma City as well as the covid hiatus. Since returning, the attendance at Thunder games has fallen off. In the 2022-2023 season, the Thunder are ranking 29th in the NBA averaging over 14,000 fans per game, which is 81% of capacity.
The previous season, they ranked 28th and had approximately the same raw numbers. The Thunder use the moniker “Loud City” quite proudly when describing the experience there and the fans in attendance are fairly loud. However, the attendance drop-off is worrisome. The Thunder are probably not able to stay near the bottom of the NBA attendance ladder without financial repercussions. The fan mark is now in flux. Continued attendance figures at this level will surely bring the markdown.
For a downtown arena, Paycom Center is very easy to get to. Located between Interstate 40 and I-235, traffic is not a huge issue. There are plenty of parking garages in the area for fans to get to and getting out of the downtown core is surprisingly smooth. For fans wanting to take public transit, the light rail travels right along Reno Ave, in front of the Paycom Center, and thesome buses travelwn Thunder Drive and other downtown streets. Fans should check out the Embark website for fares, maps, and schedules.
Inside the arena, the concourses offer sufficient space to maneuver and get crowded during the expected intermission rush. The washroom facilities are adequate for the arena. With security for games constantly in flux, including security procedures, prohibited items, and bag policies, Stadium Journey highly recommends consulting the Paycom Center and Oklahoma City Thunder websites for the most up up-to-security information in advance of attending a game.
Return on Investment 4
The Oklahoma City Thunder offers good value for an NBA experience. Tickets can be found for as little as $16 and go all the way up to $315. For the 2021-2022 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder ranked 21st in Fan Cost Index, which puts them in the cheapest third in the NBA, below the league average. Parking and concessions are about what one would expect for an NBA experience in a downtown arena. The action on the court and experience in the stands is solid and plenty is going on to keep everyone occupied.
An extra mark for the Thunder name and link to the Army Infantry Division nicknamed the Thunderbirds located in Oklahoma. An extra mark for surviving as the smallest market in the NBA. An extra mark for the close network the Thunder has with the Native American population in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma City is probably not the first destination thought of about professional sports. However, the Thunder have proven that despite being in the smallest NBA market, they can play with the big boys and belong in the league. A trip to see the Thunder is well worth the trip and the city of Oklahoma City is an underrated destination city.