When the team formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics left the Emerald City for Tornado Alley in 2008, one of the main reasons for the franchise relocation was the opportunity to play in a swanky, modern stadium. In Seattle, numerous barriers were set up time and time again on getting the Sonics into an arena which was fit for NBA level play, so in swooped Oklahoma City, tempting the team to move and play in this building, which was then known as the Ford Center.
Chesapeake Energy Arena opened in June of 2002 after a three year construction period. The arena was built as part of a downtown improvement plan for the greater Oklahoma City Metro Area, but it was one of the more forward thinking arena buildings of the last few decades. The venue was specifically constructed to minimum NBA and NHL facility standards, even though there was not so much as a rumored tenant when planning and development began. Oklahoma City had been wanting a major league franchise in one of the big four sports for a while, and by building an arena in this way, the city would always be in the running whenever a team was looking to move or when expansion was brought up.
The arena has been through plenty of changes in its relatively short history, most dictated by adding premium seating for Thunder games. In 2002 Chesapeake Energy Arena held 19,163 for basketball games, while today that number is down to 18,203. The revenue over that period, however, has increased as the reduced seating has been for the addition of extra club seats (3,380), private suites (49) and party suites (7).
One of the cooler areas of the arena is the Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Club which can be found on the 100 concourse. This is a trendy and unique bar which doesn’t feel like it belongs in an NBA arena and which wouldn’t look out of place in some downtown hot spot. The Old No. 7 Club serves a variety of beers on tap, along with appetizers and cocktails which can be enjoyed 1 ½ hours before Thunder games and an hour after the end of each game. This spot of course is always more lively after a big Thunder win.
Oklahoma City was long considered too small and too Midwestern to be a viable venue for a professional sports franchise. Ironically, it was the availability of such a high-level arena which brought about a change in these attitudes when the New Orleans Hornets were displaced by Hurricane Katrina for the 2005 season. The Hornets franchise leased Chesapeake Energy Arena for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons before moving back to New Orleans. Attendance for these games averaged over 18,000 fans during the two year stint, prompting NBA Commissioner David Stern to say that “Oklahoma City was at the top of the relocation list of cities for the NBA”.
Oklahoma City fans have wasted no time in making their impact on the NBA. The arena has become known as one of the loudest in the league, leading it to be nicknamed “loud city”. This noise peaked during the first home playoff game played by the Thunder, when the decibel meter hit 109.