LaShauna Sewell, News9.com
OKLAHOMA CITY – When the Oklahoma City Thunder plays the Grizzlies Saturday night in Memphis, the hometown crowd will be wearing T-shirts sponsored by franchisees of Sonic Drive-Ins, a company that is based in Oklahoma City.
Sonic's headquarters sits in the heart of Bricktown in Oklahoma City. The prototype of the first Sonic Drive-In opened in Shawnee in 1953. But during Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals, Grizzlies fans will be sporting white shirts proclaiming "Believe Memphis" courtesy of the fast food favorite and a Memphis car dealership.
Many Thunder fans are outraged and want to know why an Oklahoma institution would sponsor the competition. On Friday, the company sent this message via Twitter to one fan:
We explored playoff sponsorships earlier only to learn they were sold out. (good for thunder, not so for us)
News 9 spoke with representatives for Sonic who said the Oklahoma City-based company had tried to sponsor the Thunder, but early negotiations did not work out.
"We've had the opportunity in the past to sponsor the Thunder, but when they were available to us we had to take a lot of things into consideration, not the least of which was our business situation at the time," said Sonic spokesperson Nancy Robertson. "We had to do the prudent thing. Now our business is good and we are looking to see what opportunities exist for us going forward."
Robertson said the franchisees in Tennessee have a 10-year relationship with the Grizzlies and a history of sponsoring shirts for the team. Sonic hopes to develop a similar relationship with the Thunder.
"We have been in talks with them, definitely since round two," said Sonic spokesperson Christi Woodworth. "We were looking for a way to see if we could support the Thunder throughout the playoffs. Unfortunately, playoff sponsorships had already been sold out."
"We are in conversations for future opportunities."
One thing Sonic wanted to make clear: The company is fully behind the Thunder.
"We love the Thunder and what the Thunder has done for Oklahoma City," said Robertson. "We are Loud City at 300 Johnny Bench Drive."
"We are huge Thunder fans and we are so excited for them," said Woodworth. "And we expect them to win tomorrow and to win next week and to go on and win the conference."
In a statement released by the Thunder, team officials reiterated their appreciation of their corporate supporters.
"We are extremely proud and appreciative of our loyal corporate partners who support the Thunder throughout the regular season and playoffs," the statement said.
The Western Conference series is tied 1-1 going into Saturday's game.