Chesapeake Energy withdraws from Thunder arena deal

NBA basketball franchise the Oklahoma City Thunder is seeking a new arena naming rights partner, with Chesapeake Energy ending its deal early amid financial restructuring.

The venue has been known as Chesapeake Energy Arena since 2011, when Chesapeake Energy, a pioneer in the shale drilling industry, signed a 12-year contract reportedly worth $34m (£24.4m/€28.3m).

Chesapeake filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2020 and it has now informed the Thunder that as part of its recently completed restructuring it is terminating its arena naming rights agreement with the team, effective immediately. The Thunder is now seeking a new long-term naming rights partner, with the building continuing to be called Chesapeake Energy Arena while this search takes place.

“As we move toward a transition to a new naming rights partner for our arena, we would like to recognise our extraordinary history with Chesapeake Energy,” said Clayton Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City Thunder. “For a decade, the arena has proudly bore its name and we thank Chesapeake, one of our founding partners, for its loyal support and partnership.

“As Chesapeake Energy Arena, our building has been home to so many exciting and historic moments and events. As we look to forge a new partnership for naming rights, we will identify a partner who will help build on that history and be the centrepiece of our growing, modern and vibrant downtown environment.”

In addition to Thunder games, the arena hosts numerous concerts, sporting and other major events welcoming more than one million guests per year. Opened in 2002, it is managed by ASM Global and owned by the City of Oklahoma City.

The building was the premier project of Oklahoma City’s first capital improvement program (MAPS) passed in 1993 and has modernised with continued citizen support via additional MAPS funding. A new series of building improvements is coming over the next few years following the successful passage of MAPS 4 in 2019.

Doug Lawler, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, said: “We have greatly appreciated our long-standing partnership with the Thunder, and while our commitment to restoring our balance sheet and increasing our competitiveness required us to terminate our naming rights agreement, as proud Oklahomans, we will continue to strongly support the team.”

The arena was originally named Ford Center when it opened in June 2003 through a partnership struck between the Oklahoma dealers for the US automotive giant and SMG, the contractor hired to run the facility.

The Thunder moved to the arena back in 2008 after an Oklahoma City investment group acquired and relocated the then Seattle SuperSonics in a $350m deal.

Image: Michael Barera/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size