5 min read

Peace, Love, and Thunderstanding: Thunder Up, Marketing Team

Peace, Love, and Thunderstanding:  Thunder Up, Marketing Team
Thunder Up - Brad Henry

(Welcome Clark Matthews, NBA writer extraordinaire from Oklahoma’s best blog, The Lost Ogle. I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with this column already. We’re going to be doing a little post exchange between our sites. We get Clark’s outstanding NBA commentary. They get some off-hand, confused rant from me. It’s all going to work out beautifully. I think. Hope you like.)

When the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City, the organization blew their whole marketing budget re-branding the team with a new name, new logo, new mascot, new player posters for the Ford Center, et cetera, et cetera.  You get the picture.

So, coupled with the fact that the team sold their entire allotment of season tickets in less time than it takes Patrick to down a Newcastle, it was unsurprising when the Thunder pinched a few pennies by not rolling out a big “Meet the Team” advertising campaign.  Personally, I felt this was a mistake considering that the team was breaking into a new market without a good understanding of the NBA product or an ingrained love of the sport.  Sure, plastering billboards and flooding the local stations with commercials was not going to sell one more ticket (unless the team convinced the Ford Center to allow them to seat fans on the catwalk), but while the National Basketball Association has been around for, what fifty years, the NBA in this market is a brand new product in many ways.  Expecting a team that was purchased for $350MM to take root by word of mouth was a pretty risky proposition.

Luckily, the franchise seems to have realized their folly as ticket sales have naturally slipped as a result of the poor economy, poorer results on the floor last season, and the wearing off of novelty.  They now know they need to connect with potential fans to convince them to support a team 41 nights a year.

Of course, the first attempt, Thunder Up!, certainly has some limitations.  After the jump, I’ll break them down for you.

First the good:

  1. It has a jingle.  I am a sucker for marketing campaigns with jingles.  The easy thing to do would have been to use the *cringe* Hinder performed version of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”–which the team already paid for–in the commercials.  Instead they came up with something new, and somewhat catchy.  Although, let’s be honest, it’s no “Lay That Trash On Oklahoma.”
  2. It has a lot of energy.
  3. I’m blanking out

Now, for the bad.  My overriding complaint (other than, “What is ‘Thunder Up’ supposed to mean?”)  is that I cannot, for the life of me figure out who they are targeting.  The best answer I can come up with to that question is “local political junkies.”

In addition to Governor Brad Henry, who is in the screenshot above, the “celebrities” they recruited for the video include:

  • Former senator/current OU President David Boren
  • Former Flashpoint host/current OSU President Burns Hargis
  • Former Channel-5 sportscaster/current OKC mayor Mick Cornett
  • Former mayor/current brother of Sports Animal host Kirk Humphreys

I like some of those guys and respect most of them, but is seeing them cheese into a camera going to coax me into shelling out $60 to go sit underneath the basket?  Or even $10 to traipse up to the nose bleeds…I mean “Loud City.”

<random aside>Do we have to keep calling the third tier “Loud City.”  I know the Hornet marketing team, which did an excellent job selling the sport to this market, came up with the idea, and a lot of people have embraced this, but I’ve sat up there a lot.  It isn’t loud and it’s not a city.  There’s no community among the people seated there because it’s so damned dark I worry about taking my son up there for fear he might demand I turn on his nightlight.  And since the fans have no one behind them, it’s pretty quiet.  The sound all accumulates down low where the people paying $135 for their tickets (and the players) get to benefit from the energy created.  Which is fine because, hey, they paid for it.  But don’t pretend that “Loud City” is a great moniker.  If we want something catchy, I submit “Thunderdome” for the upper level.  Too Mad Max?</random aside>

Sorry, where was I?  Oh yes, the Thunder are selling a sports team, and I would think they would want to appeal to sports fans.  While the brief cameo from Barry Switzer is a good step for getting the attention of the rabid Sooner fans in the area, doesn’t the franchise have some athletes in-house that they could showcase?

Apparently not.  In their first commercial, only three Thunder players make an appearance in some jump-cut highlight footage for long enough that you can pick them out.  They are:  Nick Collison.  Nenad Krstic.  Russell Westbrook.  The first two are dunking and the latter is passing (I believe they may have used the only footage that could be found for any of those players doing any of those things).

Extending to look at the marketing campaign as a whole doesn’t really improve the campaign’s effort to bond the people of this area to the team.  Players featured on the billboards along the city highways have featured these players:

  • Jeff Green
  • Russell Westbrook
  • Nenad Krstic
  • Earl Watson
  • Kyle Weaver

While I applaud the team’s trying to introduce their second tier starters and the third string point guard for the Indiana Pacers, wouldn’t you think there is one player who probably should be the focus of any marketing campaign for the team missing there?

Some guy, oh what’s his name…some people think he might even be better than LeBron James…Gideon, can you look that up for me over the break?


Seriously, any advertisement the marketing team sends out the door should feature his image prominently.  This is similar to the mid-80’s Bulls trying to sell tickets by featuring Charles Oakley and John Paxson.

Most markets seem to understand this.  When I was in Minneapolis last Summer you could not walk ten feet without seeing Joe Mauer or Adrian Peterson’s face on something.  In Seattle this past Summer, Ichiro was everywhere.  Even in Washington D.C. the Nationals were trying to use their star, who, let’s be honest no one outside of the Capitol had heard of, to convince people to buy tickets to their 100+ loss team.

Here?  It’s as if the first superstar we’ve ever hosted is treated by the Thunder marketing office as that ugly statuette their mother-in-law got them that they hide in the closet until she comes over to visit.  Put me in those marketing meetings and I’m pitching a line of comic books to be given away free to Oklahoma City public schools that feature the Durantula playing one-on-one against a giant gila monster and a series of commercials where Durant shows up at people’s office and gives them bad advice…the catch line “Kevin Durant…he may not know double entry bookkeeping, but don’t leave him open at the three point line”.

Until the Thunder geniuses figure out their star’s marketing potential, I guess the idiots at Nike will just keep wasting their time with him.