Image from Wikimedia Commons

Theirs is arguably one of the smaller markets in the nation, so how does the Oklahoma City Thunder find itself as the team with the greatest customer experience in all of professional sports? You read that right. The Bleacher Report ranks the Oklahoma City Thunder as the seventh most powerful small-market team in the NBA, and in ESPN’s 2012 Ultimate Fan Survey, the team came in ahead of every other major sports franchise in terms of fan loyalty and overall experience.

But how?

From the tip-off, er, start, it appears the Thunder’s management knew the team faced an uphill battle. Oklahoma City is the 43rd-largest metropolitan area in the U.S., so clearly, the franchise had to rely on more than just a huge fan base for success. Plus, team owners recognized there would need to be something more generating fan loyalty than solely winning championships (although making it the NBA finals certainly doesn’t hurt). They realized they’d have to make games fun, interactive and a great value.

In other words, they knew had to focus like a laser on the customer experience.

First, let’s take a look at value. Tickets to the Thunder’s games are priced about 2.5 percent below the NBA average, and they typically cost under $50. By contrast, the most expensive NBA tickets are for the New York Knicks; those set fans back about $117.

But, for the Thunder franchise, the customer experience doesn’t begin and end when the game clock starts and stops. An engaging customers experience involves engaging fans before, during and after games, too . . . and that’s where the team has relied heavily on social media. For example, the Thunder now provides rich media experiences at:

  • Twitter. The Thunder’s Twitter feed (@okcthunder) is ranked #1 in engagement by Social Media Today. The team has 339,061 followers who help spread the word about upcoming games and community events, while sharing (and re-sharing) fan photos, quotes from players and game day commentary from the most ardent fans.
  • Facebook. The Thunder’s Facebook fan page, which has racked up nearly 1.6 million “likes,” is a haven for ardent fans who want to vote on designs for new uniforms, get “insider” details on team news, comment on player performances and compete to be the most vocal fans in the league.
  • Instagram. The current darling of social media, Instagram is manically popular and growing at a rate that could easily be classified as exponential. So –you guessed it –the Thunder has armed its fans with a hashtag (#OKCthunder) and displays any pictures tagged this way on its feed at
  • YouTube. Of the top ten NBA teams using social media, only three have an official YouTube channel. The Thunder is one. With 359 fans and nearly 75,000 video views, the channel offers multimedia experiences, including highlights from past games, halftime shows, player interviews and commercials.

This social media strategy is paying off. The Thunder was ranked first among pro teams using social media outlets . . . and their fan support is growing.

Take away all the bells and whistles, though, and perhaps most importantly, it’s clear the Thunder views its fans as a community, not just as revenue. Many of the teams most enthusiastic supporters are part of a group called The Blue Alliance, which is made up of more than 10,000 fans in more than 110 cities. The group arranges meet-ups to watch games or even to have pep rallies or fan “fun nights.” What’s more, the Thunder also takes care of its season ticket holders. The team has 14 employees dedicated to catering to the needs of these loyal customers.

What the Thunder seems to recognize that few other professional sports organizations do is that engaged fans make loyal fans. This team leverages digital media and makes itself accessible in ways that most franchises haven’t even considered. The Thunder offers great basketball, great value and an engaging omnichannel customer experience before, during and after the game.

That’s a triple-double of customer experiences that’s hard to beat . . . and it’s one that will continue to score points with fans long after the final buzzer sounds.