Theme Night Bravado

To produce a proper theme night, you bring the bravado. And Aimee Canavan, Director, Hospitality and Jessica Summers, Manager, Courtside Services from the Oklahoma City Thunder have been making theme night statements for years.

This transcript has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

What are some fun theme nights you’ve put on in OKC?

Aimee Caravan (AC): We love to blow out a holiday! Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Christmas. We always go a little crazy and Thanksgiving is always big.

We try to think outside the box too. We did a big Oscar’s party a few years ago when a game day fell on Oscar’s night. We had ballots, movie poster backdrops.

A great one was Bedlam-dueling chefs. It was during an OU and OSU. They each had their executive chef come in, from their stadiums. They each had their own menus in our Courtside club. Guests got to try each one and we got to theme it out with orange versus red on everything.

We also look at our concerts to tie to those big shows that are coming in. Last year Elton John had one of his final stops on his farewell tour at Paycom Center and it backed up to one of our home games. We did an Elton John theme night in the Courtside club. We got to bring in every color imaginable, we had people dressing up. Everybody had Elton John glasses. We think of ways to double up with our arena partners as well on concerts. We’ve got a couple of country concerts coming up that may tie in.

New Year's Eve been lucky. We've had New Year’s Eve games 15 of the last 15 years, so we always try to blow that out too.

We've done some Cuisine based ones as well. Chicago's in town, let's do Chicago night. We brought in an executive chef from the Chicago White Sox, who did Chicago-style pizza, pasta. We brought in Garrett's Popcorn. It resonates with guests because they like something different and they also like the theming since we're here on a lot of nights in a row and we want to keep changing it up.

What impact do these theme nights have on perceived customer service and potentially on retention too?

Jessica Summers (JS): About 50% of our courtside fan base is personal tickets, and most of the time it's the same people coming all 41 nights. We can all agree that 41 nights of a buffet gets old. We change it up, make it fun… like the Valentine's game. There were multiple men in the stands wearing our heart sunglasses!

Our games are an escape from work, from everything, and we don’t want it to become monotonous. [At the time of this interview in February] they've already started asking, “What are we doing for St. Patty's Day?” They know that the green beer is coming. It's become a tradition and I even get suggestions now from season ticket members.

Do you involve sponsors in theme nights?

AC: We haven't tied it largely to sponsorship yet. We have done a couple of brewery nights, like when Milwaukee is in town. When we feature a selection or pour portfolio, we can bring in a sponsor.

We're always open to those opportunities and ideas, we just need to get more aligned down the line.

What is some of the feedback like from clients on theme nights?  

JS: Aimee and I see how it's going throughout. I get a little nervous, but every time it's been received very well.

We did a Harry Potter night this year, when we played the Washington Wizards, and it went over really well. We've realized we can step outside the box more than we've realized.

AC: This year we really amped it up for Lunar New Year. One of our owners brought tons of people. It was a really important day to celebrate We had feedback from last year, so we blew it out even more this year. We had a star Chef come in, and featured a cultural element that we hadn't before, and it worked out really well.

JS: I do think that it's fair to say that we don't have a theme night every night. That would get tiresome. We figure out the spots, the games we know that will be very well attended. A key point is not overdoing it.

What role does the marketing department have in theme nights?

AC: Our marketing team really does an amazing job blowing those out from the arena-wide standpoint, which gives us a chance to pinpoint what we can do in our clubs to support.

We have a culture event with arena-wide celebration and cultural music, so we're figuring out how can we represent that well in our Quartzite Club to go with. We look at a mariachi band, representing all countries, flags, lighting.

How do these theme nights help team camaraderie?

JS: They build team camaraderie, especially among our team members from Levy who run the space. They love it. They really get into it. They are sporting the sunglasses! When we've got Rock & Roll Hall of Fame night they’re air-guitaring!

They're taking group pictures as a staff and that makes us all feel like we're doing something fun together rather than doing the same thing for work for 42 games. They’re really embracing it. They're wearing the Harry Potter glasses and putting the lightning bolt down their forehead with the rest of us.

How critical is the F&B element to theme nights, specifically on the premium level?

AC: The F&B experience is critical to our theme nights. We work very closely in partnership with our team at Levy to make sure it all makes sense, come up with fun names on the menu. We're getting really ridiculous on some nights! But in the end, they must have that great experience for the dining aspect.

Levy thinks of new display techniques, of new desserts. When we're adding on fun things or putting stuff up on the TVs or giveaways, we want to make sure that the food gets to shine as well.

Where we play it up the most is that it’s the inclusive part of their ticket.

JS: I send out the menus ahead of time and I always include what our theme night is and I always get excited responses back.

That is the benefit of having those courtside tickets. They can have Center Court seats, lower level, but it doesn't include that experience. That extra experience is why they are investing in those tickets.

Walk us through the gifting strategy.

What we have added this year – thank you Danielle Toussaint at the Mavs; have to give her a shout out – is a special drink a month. We do one of them as part of our gifting one night a month.

In November, we did a brandy ice. And if you got one, you also received a Thunder engraved glass to take home. We've done that each month with a different set. We've done beer steins for March. We did wine for Valentine's Day, old fashioned in January with rocks glasses. We did a Christmas martini.

People look forward to the drink of the month. And we're going to have a whole set for everyone at the end of the season. At the end also have the whole set.

AC: We're not all inclusive with alcohol in our Arena. We didn't didn't give them the drink per se for free, but we could give them a commemorative glass with the 15th season logo as their takeaway. It's boxed up, ready to go. By the end of the year, they'll have a whole set of some really unique pieces that have that exclusive logo that they won't get anywhere else.