There was a time, not that long ago really, when Gallagher-Iba Arena was the epicenter of the Oklahoma sports scene. OU football was in the gutter (thanks John Blake!), OSU football was, well, OSU football, and the Thunder were but a speck on Clay Bennett’s balance sheet. Once a weeknight and every Saturday GIA used to resemble a rock concert complete with star performances, delirious crowds, and you-have-to-experience-this-in-person noise. It was everything college basketball should be.
Then Josh Heupel went undefeated and OSU hired Les Miles. The 2000s have brought the revitalization of football on a state-wide level and yet early in the decade OSU basketball hung on as a must-see event. Most of this can be attributed to the high-flying twin-brother act and a guy with three roman numerals in his last name. In fact it even looked for a while as if football and basketball could share the spotlight, and why not, there was very little overlap, especially when OSU wasn’t yet playing New Year’s Day bowl games.
GIA hung on, in fact, for longer than it should have. Long after the Graham brothers had moved on and John Lucas III was testing his mettle in the European leagues, OSU basketball was successful and Gallagher-Iba still rocked as hard as any other arena in the nation. Most of me believes that JamesOn and Obi and James willed this to happen and all of me believes they had to because of the coaching reality show we had going on for about 4 years.
I was at the Texas 3OT game and trust me, that place was as electric as it’s ever been. Boggan and Durant were trading knockout blows like two heavyweights going 15 rounds but neither would fall. Durant took that game from instant classic to pantheon-level with his greatness too. We all knew it. We all knew we were watching history unfurl from the rafters of one of the college athletics’ most storied buildings. We knew when he slammed his fist against his chest after the and one to put them up 103-102 that he had done his best to push GIA towards its downward spiral that has culminated in the last few years of apathetic crowds and lackluster games. Then Boggan hit one of the greatest shots in school history and Durant would have to wait another 3 years and a cross-country relocation to slay GIA.
I understand the Thunder are sexy right now. Heck, if given the opportunity to watch KD and co. play the Bulls on a Saturday night or Keiton try to shoot us through a Big XII game against Mizzou on a Saturday afternoon, I’m taking KD every time. That fact, that I, as big an OSU fan as there’s ever been, would choose Durant over Gallagher-Iba is killing OSU right now.
I also understand how into the football program people are. The last three years have been an absolute blast. If we’re being honest, Oklahoma State is not a school where, all things being equal, basketball is going to trump football. Now, if we’re hammering through 5-7 football seasons and JamesOn is raining 25-footers on Texas Tech en route to Big XII titles then yes, basketball rules. But that hasn’t been, and doesn’t look to be, the case in the foreseeable future.
Those two things are just the precursor to the big one though: tickets.
It costs a family of four $160+ to go to an OSU Iowa St. game in the middle of February at Gallagher-Iba. I’m sorry but if I live in Oklahoma City or Tulsa and I can choose between 2 hours of ESPN2HD on my 52″ plasma with a hot meal in a warm house with my kids for free or 4 hours (with drive time) of a live game in freezing cold weather and no food and I have to pay $160+…well, I’m taking choice numero uno every single time.
John Helsley wrote a very telling article the other day about the Stanford game over Christmas break. He said, “with students gone for the semester break, ticket prices were dropped to $10, $20, and $30. And fans responded.” He’s right too and everybody knows it. It’s not the main thing but it’s a start. As my buddy, John said the other day “I’d rather cut prices in half and have a full arena than have a half-full arena and leave prices where they are.”
And with that here are three solutions (including one of Helsley’s) OSU needs to implement to, as they put it, “bring the rowdy back.”
Content is king – There’s a saying in the blogging world that goes “content is king.” It means you can have the worst looking website, terrible colors, the wrong font, and pictures that don’t show up but as long as your content (the words you write) is superior to everybody else’s content…you win. Two straight dances is a start, as was the KU game last year, but there hasn’t been a particular hoops team I’ve fallen in love with lately. In fact, I would add to that saying “content you love is king” meaning, yes, content is king, but I, as an individual, have to love that particular content. OSU can go 40-0 every year but if they’re doing it with robots and no emotion is involved then I don’t care, I won’t be able to buy in. Unfortunately there’s nothing the marketing department can do about this short of building a camouflaged trampoline underneath one of the goals for Markel Brown to have some fun with during games.
Lower ticket prices – This is obvious and laid out well by Helsley in his article. The number one driver has to be Loud City. If I’m on the fence, as I imagine most Edmonites and Oklahoma City-ites are in terms of choosing what sporting event to go to, I’m not going to choose driving all the way to Stillwater to pay 4x the money for an inferior product when I can go down to the arena-formerly-known-as-the-Ford-Center and pay $10 to see a future hall-of famer. I’m just not.
A new Melvin – Say what you want about Melvin Sanders’ offensive prowess but you can’t deny that he was an incredible dunker. The way he could athletically twist and maneuver his body mid-air was almost artistic. His defense fed off the crowd and he, in turn, gave it back to them with his rim-shattering smashes. We haven’t had that in a while. Torre Johnson brought it but he was here for about as long as it takes Ray Penn to throw it away from the top of the key. James was a great player but he wasn’t a great dunker. Obi and Terrel were good players but not good dunkers. We haven’t had a Melvin/Joey/Desmond in a while. You know who I think it’s going to be? JP Olukemi. My boy Nolo sent me an email yesterday that said, “Olukemi is our x-factor, if he can get it going in conference we can be dangerous.”
So to summarize, “bringing the rowdy back” is as simple as Elite 8 team + lower ticket prices + world-class dunker.
Let’s make it happen.