Growing up in Oklahoma City and attending college at Oklahoma State, when I moved to the Northeast I heard a slew of stereotypes about my fair state. The Bible Belt, Tornado Alley, the Trail of Tears, the Land Run and the Oklahoma City bombing all got mentioned. The jokes about having electricity, running water, riding a horse to school and living in a teepee next to an oil well were all said more than once. I took them as the jokes I thought they were, not as a genuine lack of knowledge about Oklahoma.
When the Tulsa Shock came to town, even the ladies who would represent the area in the WNBA were unaware of what to expect from their new home. And the same could be said of WNBA fans outside of the region.
So when the Shock announced Faith and Family Night, complete with a post-game Christian concert and discounts for buying "family packs" and church sections of tickets, I rolled my eyes. Great. Perpetuating the stereotype that so many link with Oklahoma.
As someone who does not participate in organized religion on the regular, unkidded, and unlinked to any significant other, I thought to myself about the exclusive nature of such an event. I thought about looking for the stories of those who felt left out of such a marketing plan, those that didn't fit this demographic.
But when I dig deeper, this Faith and Family Night fits more than I ever imagined.
While many of the jokes are falsehoods to the nth degree, one of the above laundry list of traits that Tulsa and the state identifies with more than I realized was its secure place in the Bible Belt, with some even calling Tulsa the "buckle".
Things that I write off as commonplace - an almost uncountable number of churches adorning almost every street corner and a radio dial peppered with Christian music stations is not the norm in other parts of the country or even in other WNBA cities.
According to the 2006 census, there were 382,872 people living in Tulsa proper (897,752 regionally) and 50 percent of households were married couples, hence families - half to the Faith and Family equation. Okay, so perhaps marketing to families is more logical and warranted than my singleton self likes to believe.
To fulfill the faith portion of the equation, some somewhat unexpected numbers sprung from the page as I perused data from the Association of Religion Data Archives for 2000 for the Tulsa metropolitan area. More than 50 percent consider themselves to be congregational "adherents" (full-time members who regularly attend services). Well over half of the 803,235 respondents chose Christianity for their religion with 364,533 trending towards a Protestant sect. Of the 381,996 people in this data collection that chose 'unclaimed', I am sure there a even a few more that fit into the category of Christianity, but do not consider themselves to fall in the classification of "adherent".
So when Dove Award winner Aaron Shust is signing autographs and singing his Contemporary Christian songs after the Shock take on the Minnesota Lynx, the church youth groups, area students from sponsoring college Oklahoma Wesleyan and other local religious-based universities like Oral Roberts will quite likely be singing along.
Many friends have spoken of the community and congregation building that fellowshipping with groups of like-minded individuals will bring. These same friends express excitement over coupling sports with religion - something that might not mesh in cities that don't identify with their religious beliefs to the extent of a market like Tulsa.
For Oklahoma, this seems a no-brainer marketing plan that would lend itself to success all while pulling in much-needed women's basketball fans to the newest city of the WNBA. And for that strategy of inclusion of a large population base, the Shock must be looked at as not only building their business but also their brand, merging a part of their identity with the landscape in which they are surrounded.
One of Faith and Family.