by Lisa McRitchie on 05/05/12 at 02:30 AM ET
There may have been nothing that would attract sports fans to the Cox Convention Centre for the Oklahoma City Barons’ Thursday night playoff game against the San Anontio Rampage. Tickets were only $11 a piece, there were free t-shirts and 10oz beer was just $1. Even better, you could get 16oz for just a dollar more. Despite the entertainment value, Neal Livingston reports on Copper & Blue that a mere 2833 fans walked through the turnstile.
The Barons and Heat matchup at the Saddledome in February was far from a sellout, but the numbers were higher than for any single game in OKC.
I made a trip down to Oklahoma City last year to interview players and see for myself how widely accepted hockey was in Oklahoma. I was pleasantly surprised when I met a handful of dedicated hockey fans in the crowd who had read my Oilers articles at Copper & Blue and generally impressed that the crowd was 4758 for Friday night’s game, and 5367 on Saturday in late February. So just what happened in a year?
Speaking with people outside of the arena; in my hotel or on the street in Bricktown, the fun downtown area of Oklahoma City with many shops, restaurants and the city’s professional ballpark, people were generally unaware that there was a new hockey team in town. Everyone I had spoken with were familiar with the Central Hockey League team the Oklahoma City Blazers. They were aware that the team had left after the city and the team could not come to agreements over a new lease, but they were surprised to hear that just a single year later a hockey team was back and that it was at least a level higher in terms of quality of competition.
The general complaint about sport in OKC was that it was always minor league, up until the Oklahoma City Thunder came to town. The new NBA team was exactly what the city had been hoping for; professional sport in the heart of their city.
So where does that leave hockey? Unfortunately, no one knows. This Barons’ team is stronger and further in the playoffs in their second season of existence, but still the crowd numbers decrease. The players have tweeted ticket promotions and encouragements for fans to come out and support the team and that hasn’t worked either.
Neal wrote last December that it was only a matter of time before the team caught on, but maybe it’s just not so. Maybe, just maybe the city of Oklahoma is going to support the Thunder while the other winter sports teams struggle to draw, much like what has happened in Edmonton with the Oil Kings. It doesn’t matter that a couple of future Oilers and several potential NHLers were scoring highlight reel goals and winning night after night, hockey fans in Edmonton would rather stay at home and watch the Oilers on road trips or spend their entertainment dollars on something else.
The Barons will host the San Antonio Rampage again Saturday night, but they will once again be in competition with the Thunder who play another playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks. The weekend game may attract a few more fans, but I wouldn’t expect attendance to double. I’m not sure what it would take for the numbers to increase. The team is already a winner, there are a multitude of meet and greet opportunities and the Barons are present in the community but the majority of the residents of OKC just don’t seem to see the value in having an AHL club in their city. If this is the case, it will continue to show in the numbers much to the disappointment of the rabid hockey fans that do attend and support the team in any way they can. But then again, things did turn around in Nashville. Maybe Neal is right and it is only a matter of time, but then again, maybe OKC is just a one horse town and that horse’s name is Thunder.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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