Congressman and former University of Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts once said: “I like to call the ethos I grew up with ‘Oklahoma values.’ But you’d be just as accurate if you said ‘American values.’ Except for our lack of a seacoast, Oklahoma has a little bit of just about everything that’s American.” 

And what’s more American than sports? Baseball has been referred to as “America’s pastime,” but the same could be said of many competitive offerings. After all, Oklahomans begat a broad range of athletes, from Jim Thorpe and Mickey Mantle to Shannon Miller and John Smith, one of the greatest American gymnasts and wrestlers, respectively. 

Sporting and athletic commissions help to bolster athletes like these, as well as sporting events around the state. Oklahoma’s State Athletic Commission was created to protect, maintain and improve the safety and welfare of participants in combat sports, as well as educate the general public. Combat sports are known more specifically as professional boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts (MMA) and kickboxing. The OSAC also compiles a list of upcoming events in the combat sports arena and is covered by the Oklahoma State Health Department. 

The Tulsa Sports Commission focuses on promoting and drawing events to the Tulsa area to build tourism, which contributes significantly to the local and state economy. One powerful example of this work is how in 2022, the Tulsa Sports Commission brought the Pro Golf Association (PGA) Championship to Tulsa, which contributed to Tulsa’s biggest year in tourism history. The event attracted 24,526 visitors to town, who occupied 62,077 hotel rooms over the course of the championship. During the event, 156 of the most elite golfers competed at Southern Hills Country Club; the event had a $157 million impact on Tulsa’s economy with an average $4,844.50 of spending per visitor. This contributed to the most successful tourism month in Tulsa’s history.

The Tulsa Sports Commission promotes sporting events and draws tourism to the city.  Photo by Press Pause Films courtesy the TSC

Sports tourism is also big for OKC, says Adam Wisniewski, Visit Oklahoma City’s vice president of sports.

“Our job is to utilize sports to create an economic impact and tourism,” he says. “We want to bring sporting events here that will make people outside of Oklahoma City visit our destination, and take their outside dollars and spend them here with our local restaurants, hotels and attractions.”

According to figures provided by Visit OKC, during their last fiscal year (Aug. 2022 through July 2023), sporting events they supported generated an estimated economic impact of $92 million. The positive economic impact of the OKC Thunder can’t be understated; when the previous Seattle SuperSonics became the Thunder, their exit from Washington was reported to have cost the city over $12 million. In year one in OKC, the Thunder reportedly infused an additional $525 million into the economy. 

Athletic commissions are charged with keeping sports and spectators safe, while also attracting new and diverse sports to Oklahoma to keep our economy thriving.

What’s Ahead

With OU leaving the Big 12 Conference and joining the Southeastern Conference, game attendance and overall economic impact are expected to grow substantially in 2024. 

In Tulsa, the Hardesty National BMX Stadium will host Round Five of the UCI (United Cycliste Internationale) BMX Racing World Cup on April 27, which is also expected to bring in significant tourism revenue and focus global attention on Tulsa’s world-class BMX facility.

Main image cutline: Tulsa is set to host round five of the BMX Racing World Cup in April. Photo by Tyler Layne Photography courtesy the TSC 

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