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66ers Report: Looking into the 66ers-Thunder connection, from a different angle

66ers Report: Looking into the 66ers-Thunder connection, from a different angle
J.P. Wilson/thunder.nba.com

(Note: This was written before Thunder night last night)

Normally in the NBA Development League, when the relationship between a parent club and an affiliate team is discussed, it’s only looked at in terms of the on-court product. Today, with “Thunder Night” in the works for Friday night, I thought it would be interesting to look at the inner workings of the Tulsa 66ers-Oklahoma City Thunder relationship. Specifically, the marketing and sales aspects were of interest to me. With that in mind, I interviewed Brian Byrnes, the senior vice president of sales and marketing about how Oklahoma City views its ties with Tulsa … from a different standpoint.

Incidentally, “Thunder Night” will include the Thunder Girls and Thunder drummers, as well as a matchup of former first-round draft picks in Oklahoma City/Tulsa center B.J. Mullens and Memphis/Dakota center Hasheem Thabeet.

“Thunder Night” takes place on Friday night when Tulsa and Dakota square off at the Tulsa Convention Center.

Kevin Henry: Personally, you have to be excited about Thunder Night. You’re one of the people really behind the idea.
Brian Byrnes: We have an ownership interest in the team and we see Friday night as a great opportunity for the Thunder to spread its wings throughout the state. Tulsa is truly a developmental team for us. Players in Tulsa are involved in the same things the Thunder players are involved with, everything from coaching strategies to nutrition to offseason analysis. We are constantly challenging ourselves to make sure things are the same in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

KH: Certainly everyone in Oklahoma City keeps track of the basketball being played, but you’re keeping track of the intangibles as well.
BB: We have a constant interest in our brand and we want to use the 66ers as an extension of our brand. It’s important to us to be able to bring our brand to the entire state of Oklahoma.

KH: You’re seeing a lot of people making the drive from Tulsa and other parts of the state to support Oklahoma City, correct?
BB: We’re impressed with how many people are making the commitment to seeing the Thunder and they’re breaking down any geographic barriers to come to Oklahoma City. We’re excited about that, but not surprised. The people of Oklahoma proved they could support an NBA team (when the New Orleans Hornets moved to OKC during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) and they continue to show they can support an NBA team.

KH: Speaking of the drive to OKC, many Oklahomans make long drives during college football and basketball season to support their state teams. Is there a difference in asking people to support a college or pro event?
BB: There’s a great history of people in Oklahoma driving to OU and OSU to support their teams. Really, we’re not asking them to do anything different than what they’re already used to doing.

KH: During Thunder games, I’m seeing more and more promotions for the Tulsa 66ers, right?
BB: Absolutely. It’s really about communication, and we want the Thunder fans to understand what is going on with the 66ers. We also want our fans to know that the 66ers players and coaches are part of the Thunder family.

KH: What’s your main goal for fans attending games, whether it’s Thunder or 66er games?
BB: We want them to have a quality experience. We have them to have a social experience that engages them. We always want our fans to have good experiences and see our teams as teams that can provide a safe, affordable environment. The more we can market that, the more barriers we can break down.

KH: What do you see as the biggest marketing challenge with the Thunder in Tulsa?
BB: First, I think the biggest challenges also present the biggest opportunities. That being said, I know that there has been a long history between Tulsa and Oklahoma City … and it hasn’t always been the friendliest. I think the Thunder can be a common denominator between the two communities and bridge some of the problems there may have been in the past.

Kevin Henry authors the excellent 66ers Nation, a Tulsa 66ers blog and also serves as the beat reporter for the 66ers for the Tulsa World. You can follow him on Twitter here.