Oklahoma's tourism industry to get NBA boost

Monday, October 13th 2008, 7:25 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma's third-largest industry is tourism. And state tourism leaders see an opportunity to keep the industry growing with the NBA hitting OKC.

In theory, the NBA bumps Oklahoma City up a notch in status as a "big league" city. The city is now on the map, or at least in bigger letters than before, and that could translate into real tourism dollars.

At Monday's opening session of the Governor's annual conference on tourism, State Tourism Director Hardy Watkins said being "big league" presents both challenges and opportunities.

"We'll be viewed and judged differently, more harshly in some cases, but we also will be featured, for example, on ESPN for ten months out of the year, when they give the score," Watkins said.

It will be an opportunity, officials said, for Oklahoma City to recast its image and showcase attractions that people who live outside the state have never seen like the Oklahoma River and its rowing venue, Bricktown and its canal and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

Museum officials said they are already looking at ways they can directly tie in to the arrival of the Thunder.

"You know, with the Hornets, we had this great event called ‘Basketball 101 for Women,' and the players were there, and they also did a presentation of basketball uniforms through the years, so when they got to the 70's with the short shorts, it was really fun," Oklahoma City Museum of Art officials Leslie Spears said.

Even better-known attractions, like the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, expect an NBA bounce.

"We know that when people come to see attractions like the Thunder, that they're looking for other things to do to have a well-rounded experience, and we think the museum fits that perfectly," National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum official Leslie Baker said.

Tourism officials said they are concerned about the impact of the economy.

"But, because we are a regional destination, because we rely heavily on people who live within 500 miles of our state, we think that we still have a tremendous opportunity to continue to see gains," Watkins said.

Officials estimate the tourism industry is responsible for 77,000 jobs across the state and has an annual economic impact of more than $5 billion.