The Oklahoma City Thunder made it official this afternoon that the games will no longer be shown on the giant video board outside the Chesapeake Arena. The press release explains that “Thunder Alley” will continue in regular season form, which is essentially a pre-game carnival attended by those attempting to win tickets in the Thunder Reward Zone and season ticket holders prior to entering the arena.
By not showing the game on the big screen, the team has basically eliminated any reason fans without tickets would assemble outside the arena. This decision, of course, stems from the incident of violence that occurred Monday night in Bricktown where eight people were shot. I can’t say I blame the Thunder organization for making the decision to shut it down – I’m sure the team is thanking its lucky stars that the gunshots did not occur in Thunder Alley.
However, I do think that if the team wants to continue providing an avenue by which fans without tickets can partake in the community aspect of this Thunder playoff run, a plan can be formulated to make fan safety paramount.
I have been down in Thunder Alley several times this year and don’t kid yourself, there were some sketchy individuals mixed in the crowd. When an event is free to enter and easily accessible, the rift raft and trouble makers flock. From my experience attending Thunder Alley, there are three major problems. By the end of the night the crowd becomes 1) too large to control, 2) a little too rowdy and 3) a little too sketchy.R
My solutions are not perfect or comprehensive, but I think they provide a sensible plan to Save Thunder Alley:
#1: Gate or rope off smaller areas within Thunder Alley in which fans can gather (either standing or sitting in lawn chairs) leaving walkable aisles and exit paths.
I think this could solve a lot of the public safety risks with which the city and team were concerned. The aisles would provide paramedics and public safety officers easy access to a person if he or she became sick or injured in the crowd. This would also allow for police officers to patrol the aisle within the crowd throughout the evening to ensure that no idiots do idiotic things.
The crowd was so huge Monday night that if anything was to happen in the middle of the crowd, the police officers would have had a heck of a time trying to get in there and sort it out. There were just too many bodies. The aisles and exit paths will allow valuable space in which emergency personnel can operate. The ability of police officers to patrol the crowd will provide an added sense of security to the adult fans who bring their children to the watch party.
Another thing that may help is to add a few more sets of bleachers and designate an area for those with lawn chairs and those without. These ideas would help tremendously with the crowd control issue by breaking the massive crowd into manageable pieces.
#2 Either stop the sale of alcohol once the game begins or get rid of it all together
This is a simple change that could make a huge difference. There have been reports that Thunder Alley was getting pretty rowdy even before the gun violence a half-mile away. Guys get rowdy when they drink. Guys get extra rowdy when they drink and watch sports. Guys get extra extra rowdy when they drink and watch sports with other guys who are rooting for the opposing team.
I saw quite a few Lakers fans in Thunder Alley Monday night. I don’t know if they were the cause of any of the rowdy behavior, but I am sure it didn’t make anything better. Knowing that there will be a large group of people watching sports together, why put fuel on the fire by serving alcohol? I am sure the majority of wouldn’t mind sacrificing $2 beers for the continuation of the Thunder Alley watch party.
#3 Restrict access to Thunder Alley – not by charging admission, but rather, admit the fans presenting a receipt from one of the Bricktown/Downtown establishments
Making an event like the Thunder Alley watch party free and easily accessible is just asking for trouble. As the night progressed Monday, the crowd kept getting bigger and bigger. I’m sure those fans that showed up after halftime were not mom, dad, timmy and sally from NW OKC – they were most certainly people that saw the huge crowd on TV and wanted to get in on the action.
Because it was free, anyone and their dog could go down there and start trouble. Heck, the state fair is not even free and it attracts all sorts of people that only go to start trouble. Charging admission to Thunder Alley would kind of go against the spirit of the event. It originated as a way for fans without tickets to be able to enjoy the Thunder games with other fans. But, I think it is necessary to create some sort of filter, so the rift raft can’t freely pass onto the well-behaved patrons. I’m sure many fans would still show up if there was a nominal $5 fee to enter. However, why not be a little more creative with it?
The city could restrict access to Thunder Alley by gating it off and creating various entrance points. The Thunder could staff “ticket takers” at those entrances. Instead of tickets, fans can get access to the watch party by bringing a day-of receipt of $5 or more from any Bricktown/Downtown eating or drinking establishment. This would help to promote local restaurants downtown and hopefully bring in new customers to those places. I’m sure all the businesses downtown would be supportive of this idea.
The gating off aspect of the idea would definitely require more police force in the area. However, with the admission being receipts from Oklahoma City businesses, the increase in sale tax would be a positive. Also, the City of Oklahoma City beefs up its police presence at other events in Oklahoma like the State Fair and the OKC Memorial Run, so I am sure it is possible. The playoffs don’t come around too often after all.
As I mentioned, this may not be the perfect plan, but I think it illustrates that there are feasible ways to continue this event. If you are worried about the cost, I’m sure the team has businesses lined up to sponsor the free t-shirt give-a-way that would love to sponsor Thunder Alley.
I was a big fan of the Thunder Alley watch party. I was filled with a lot of pride seeing those overhead shots of the massive crowd outside the arena. However, I understand the need for safety. Hopefully my plan finds an acceptable middle ground which allows fans to be ThunderObsessed safely.