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Goal setting


The Barons have enjoyed heating up the local sports scene during the NBA lockout.

Dean Anderson December 14th, 2011

Bob Funk Jr. considers himself a basketball fan of many years.

He’s also the owner of a professional sports club, so he has a unique perspective on the recent NBA lockout.

As a fan, Funk laments not having seen Kobe Bryant or LeBron James by this time of year. As an owner, he hates seeing revenue go down the toilet.

But as a businessman, Funk can’t be any happier that his Oklahoma City Barons, an American Hockey League franchise and affiliate for the Edmondton Oilers, are currently the only pro game in town.

All that changes when the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season begins on Christmas Day, but until then, Funk promises his second-year team will do its best to carve out a larger niche in the local sports marketplace.

“I think we’re doing a good job.

I’m hard to satisfy, so we can always do better in my mind,” he said. “I think we’re doing it in some creative ways.”

Fanning the fan base
Demographically speaking, the Barons serve two groups. First is what Funk calls “an old Blazers fan,” who comprise the bulk of season ticket sales.

“We have a secondary demographic we’re pursuing in order to turn them into hockey fans,” he said, “and that’s more of an alternative type more interested in a lot of outdoor activities and organic food stuff and constantly engaged with their technology.”

Think the young, hip, double-income, no-kids crowd.

Funk has played down the effect having an NBA team across the street has on the Barons, but admitted that having top billing weekend nights has “absolutely” presented an opportunity.

“The lockout and not having the Thunder downtown, from my perspective, isn’t good. It’s not good for us, it’s not good for the city. Anytime we went head-to-head, we saw a small increase in our attendance numbers over the average,” he said. “I don’t like anything taking away from the downtown awareness. If they’ve got everything in one area they’ll spend their time here.

“At the same time, we want to remind them it’s not just the Thunder. In the meantime, we’ll try to fill the void and increase our branding a little bit.”

The price of puck
The branding has been a bit of a battle for the Barons.

A seat at the top of the Cox Convention Center’s four corners goes for $14. Two more seating levels exist between that and sitting within 10 feet of the ice at $36 a ticket. A family of four can sit behind the glass, but at a cost of $150, which includes parking, but not food or drinks.

“Local fans seem to think that the ticket prices are on the high side, especially the non-premium seats,” said Scott Reynolds, editor of the Edmonton Oilers fan site coppernblue.com. “Even though the prices are in line with the rest of the AHL, Oklahoma City is a new market, and with the cheapest single-game seats for the NBA’s Thunder being more affordable — when they’re actually playing games — it’s easy to understand why there might be some frustration.”

Funk counters that argument with one of his own: It’s a caliber of hockey the city has never seen before.

On Nov. 19, the crowd numbered 3,329. That made the near-15,000seat arena look huge. But Josh Evans, Barons director of communications, had a different perspective.

“They all paid,” he said. In the history of minor-league hockey in Oklahoma City, that’s huge.

At one point, the Oklahoma City Blazers averaged 9,200 fans a game, but attendance numbers were subsidized heavily by promotions that often included thousands of free tickets.

Beginning last season, the Barons and the city entered into a five-year agreement that includes a clause allowing the agreement to be severed if average paid home attendance falls below 4,000.

But that doesn’t phase Funk. “Life’s good. It’s a continual process of building our brand and trying to bring new fans into the door and satisfying our old fan base. Continually trying to make new fans is the most important thing,” he said, no matter who’s playing next door.

 
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