Million-dollar Tulsa Zoo sponsorship to offset Tulsa Shock move

Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse said the million-dollar sponsorship to the Tulsa Zoo was to augment the loss of the Tulsa Shock sponsorship when the WNBA team moved to Dallas-Fort Worth.

The Zoo announced the sponsorship on June 21, World Giraffe Day, and said in a press release it intends to use the money to expand its giraffe barn for its three giraffes, Lexi, Pili and Hekaya. The expanded barn will be named the Osage Casino Giraffe Barn and will allow future additions to the herd. Construction is set to begin in early 2017 and finish in late 2017.

Bighorse said the signage on the barn will stay for 15 years and equals about $67,000 a year in advertising space. The million dollars will be paid over a three-year span.

“The Zoo approached us with a sponsorship, it wasn’t a gift, it was a sponsorship, and what the sponsorship entails is we pay one million dollars over three years, so I saved a million bucks from what we were paying to the Tulsa Shock,” Bighorse said on July 18 to the Osage Congressional Commerce Committee. “What it is, is 700,000 people attend the Zoo on a yearly basis. A lot of them, about 60,000 of those, are kids and we’re not worried about that. The others are grandparents, and parents of these kids. So we looked at it as an opportunity.”

According to Osage Casinos Marketing Director Jennifer Bighorse (CEO Byron Bighorse’s spouse), the zoo is Tulsa’s biggest daily attraction. The zoo brings in more people than the Tulsa Drillers (Tulsa’s minor baseball team), the OK Aquarium and Big Splash.

The zoo attracts 384,000 plus visitors annually from Tulsa County and 254,000 plus visitors annually from outside Tulsa County, she said.

“The investment here will translate into greater visibility and name recognition for Osage Casino. This, in turn, will equate to more and new customers coming to all of the Nation’s entertainment venues for food and entertainment,” she said in the email. “This is the beginning of a 15-year agreement that has the opportunity and the capability to evolve into an enhancement to our brand and educational opportunities for our youth.”

The zoo is approximately 13 minutes from the Tulsa Casino. Byron Bighorse said about 98 percent of the patrons who go to the Tulsa Casino live or work within a 25-mile radius.

He said Osage Casinos was the top sponsor for the Tulsa Shock before the move. The sponsorship agreement was for $2 million every three years. He said they had a major gap in their Tulsa advertising when the Shock left.

“The facts are we saved a million dollars over three years [with the Tulsa Zoo sponsorship]. Plus, I got a 15 year deal out of it,” Bighorse said to the Commerce committee. “We’ve got a lot of opportunity; we’re still working out the details with the Nation about educational opportunities that come with that sponsorship.”

Bighorse said the Casinos’ marketing department, a sponsorship committee and the Gaming Enterprise Board approved the sponsorship.

According to the Tulsa Zoo press release, the sponsorship will allow the zoo to double the size of the giraffe barn, which is currently 800 feet. The new barn will also feature indoor viewing, three new individual stalls and a large community stall.

The Casinos employ just over 1,100 people, with approximately 140 employees working at the Casino’s central office.

Bighorse said 2015 was the most successful financial year in the history of Osage Casinos and 2016 is forecasting to be the same financial success.