Large public gatherings have been virtually non-existent in Oklahoma City since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Five and a half months after perhaps the most public cancellation of the pandemic, moments before the OKC Thunder were to tip off against the Utah Jazz on March 11, the shutdown is taking a multi-million-dollar toll of the city’s economy.
“We were positioned for nearly a record-breaking banner year at Chesapeake Arena until March 11,” Chesapeake Energy Arena general manager Chris Semrau said.
The city-owned Chesapeake Energy Arena reports it has lost approximately $2 million since the pandemic began. They said direct consumer spending relating to the arena’s events is around $20 million.
“We are on national calls every day to prepare the facility to come out of this health emergency and to do so in a safe way for our guests,” Semrau said. “We need to instill confidence in our guests that when they come back it’ll be safer than ever.”
The revenue loss has forced the arena to make difficult financial decisions.
“We’ve implemented furloughs at various levels and many other cost-cutting mitigation measures,” Semrau said. “We are sure trying to trim back everything we can right now, while keeping the company going.”
Citywide, the convention and visitor’s bureau reports the loss due to event cancellations is about $235 million.
“That’s hotel rooms, restaurant meals, it is retail shopping, it’s tickets to all of these events. Anything and everything that people would do in connection to go to an event,” Oklahoma City Visitor's Bureau president Michael Carrier said.
Hotel capacity across the city typically runs around 75%, according to Carrier. That dipped to around just 20% at the height of the shutdown and is currently back to around 45%.
“We’ve been a little bit hard-nosed in some situations, but our COVID cases are declining,” Carrier said. "We are doing a better job than a lot of other cities in the United States and we are going to benefit from that because we are able to have economic recovery here.”