OKLAHOMA CITY -- The three-time WNBA champion Detroit Shock are moving to Tulsa in hopes that a small-yet-enthusiastic market will embrace what will be the city's only major pro sports team.
League president Donna Orender and other officials made the announcement Tuesday that the Shock was being sold and relocated, a day after The Associated Press reported the move. Gov. Brad Henry was among those who attended the press conference.
The announcement came five days after a Tulsa ownership group said it would apply to the WNBA to purchase a franchise. The sale and move need WNBA Board of Governors approval, and the purchase price wasn't revealed.
Former Tulsa and Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson already has been named coach and general manager of the new team, which will play at 18,000-seat BOK Center downtown.
"You could really feel the energy rise in Tulsa," Orender said. "Our expectation is that they will achieve greatness."
Oklahoma City businessmen Bill Cameron and David Box lead the Tulsa WNBA ownership group, formally known as Tulsa Pro Hoops LLC. Cameron is the CEO and chairman of the board of American Fidelity Assurance Co., a private, family-owned life and health insurance company. Box is founder of The Box Talent Agency, the largest talent agency in Oklahoma.
Box said the team's color scheme and nickname are yet to be determined.
Tulsa County has a population of about 592,000 and Tulsa is the second-smallest city with a WNBA franchise. The smallest is Uncasville, Conn.
Despite the market size, the WNBA could succeed in Tulsa if the team, and product, are marketed properly, said Clay Stoldt, the chair of Wichita State University's Department of Sport Management.
"If you take a look at the whole landscape of pro sports, there are a number of franchises in cities that are smaller than the average for their leagues that do quite well," Stoldt said. "The Oklahoma City NBA franchise is off to a good start. There's San Antonio's NBA franchise, and Salt Lake City's as well.
"But the flip side of that, just because you're the one major professional sports franchise in your community, that's not going to be an automatic ticket to success."
Stoldt said the Tulsa WNBA franchise made a shrewd move in hiring Richardson, who remains popular in the region. Richardson guided Tulsa to the 1981 National Invitation Tournament title before winning the 1994 NCAA crown at Arkansas.
"Stars sell tickets and they've got a star with Nolan," he said.
If the Tulsa franchise can translate the enthusiasm for women's basketball in Oklahoma from the winter to the summer -- when the WNBA plays -- that could also bode well, said Mark Nagel, a professor who teaches sports management at the University of South Carolina and a former assistant women's basketball college coach.
"That's the biggest thing the WNBA has not been able to do," Nagel said. "If the WNBA can pull those fans over during the summer, it will be successful."
The Tulsa roster includes six-time All-Star Katie Smith, who played for U.S. teams that won Olympic gold medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008; Alexis Hornbuckle, who won two NCAA titles with Tennessee; and Cheryl Ford, the daughter of former NBA star Karl Malone.
"We are real excited to have their roster. I'm just pinching myself," Cameron said. "Wonderful players. A great team, a great coach, a great arena, a great city -- that's quite a combination."
Cameron also is a part of the ownership group of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder. He said initially there will be no connection between the Thunder and the WNBA franchise but didn't rule it out in the future.
"The hospitality that the NBA has received in Oklahoma has been tremendous," NBA Commissioner David Stern said in videotaped remarks shown during the news conference. "You welcomed the New Orleans Hornets in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and you have embraced the Thunder and the (Tulsa) 66ers. I know you will give this WNBA team the same warm reception."
The move will end a chapter in one of the most successful teams in recent WNBA history: Detroit made its WNBA debut in 1998 and won titles in 2003, 2006 and 2008. The Shock lost last month to the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference finals after rallying to earn a playoff spot.
In the 2003 WNBA finals, Detroit did draw 22,076 fans -- setting a record for the largest crowd to watch a women's professional basketball game -- but most games were poorly attended at The Palace of Auburn Hills in a state with four major professional teams along with Michigan and Michigan State athletics.
Tom Wilson, the president of Palace Sports and Entertainment, the Pistons and the Shock, called the decision to part with the franchise "one of the toughest we have ever made."
"The Shock has been a true force in the WNBA, but the fact of the matter is that the economic realities have caused us to make this decision," Wilson said in a statement.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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