Unite a longtime civic leader with a storied local sports executive and what do you get? It could be a marriage made in entertainment heaven for the Oklahoma City market, if they play their cards right.
Former Express Sports executive Brad Lund and businessman Mike McAuliffe came together in late 2009 to mesh ideas.
Phone tag led to lunch. Lunch led to a discussion, and in January, Oklahoma Sports & Entertainment was born.
"Our general mission is to provide management, marketing, public relations, sponsorship, sales and operational support for selected events in the state," Lund says. "I've always felt Oklahoma City is one of the premiere special event markets in the country."
He says successful NCAA games, Professional Bull Riders showcases, Davis Cup tennis in 2002 and the Oklahoma City River Festival are proof positive that this market is a firm supporter of big-time events.
Lund poured 16 years of his career into Express Sports as the lead executive for the Oklahoma City Blazers before exiting in 2008. During that time, hockey in Oklahoma experienced a resurgence, fanning interest levels to new highs before the Blazers were extinguished during the 2008-2009 season.
During his tenure, the franchise led the Central Hockey League in attendance in each of his 16 seasons and was ranked No. 1 in all of pro hockey attendance on five occasions. Those successes helped lead to February's announcement that the American Hockey League would come to the city, bringing National Hockey League-caliber athletes with it in the form of the Edmonton Oilers' top farm club.
McAuliffe's roles in the metro have varied in each of the past three decades. The president and CEO of Doctor On Call - a 24-hour physician-access hotline- was in the public sector prior to that.
From 1985 to 1993, he worked at City Hall and was chief of staff for mayors Andy Coats and Ron Norick. Most recently, McAuliffe successfully brought back the OKC Nationals drag boat races, which floats a $4.2 million economic impact to the city.
Events like this could be commonplace, he says. A major music festival is on the drawing board for 2012, as well as a major recurring outdoor sporting event.
Both agree that the company would like to promote three to five quality events each year.
"MAPS I moving forward to MAPS III to garnering the Thunder, the general population likes to see sporting events and special events succeed in Oklahoma City, whether it's a one-night event or a team playing 41 times at Ford Center," Lund says. "A lot of other markets think it's somewhat humorous to see a franchise fail or an event to be 'one and done.' That's not the way Oklahoma City is.
"Oklahoma Citians - from the private and public sector - they give you a chance. This is a mature market."
Both agree that the opportunities are virtually unlimited for the metro, with MAPS III and the new convention center only bolstering the chances of pulling in more events in the future.
Nationally, Lund says events such as minor league hockey, Festival of the Arts and Oklahoma Redhawks games already speak volumes to promoters looking for a venue.
"There's such a thing as bad markets, average markets and good ones," he says. "Oklahoma City is an A-list market."