To understand the plight of the hockey fan in Oklahoma City, look no further than the order of links over at NewsOK.com/sports. The online portal for the largest newspaper in Oklahoma has placed Barons hockey just in front of "Golf" and right after "Redhawks". Lost in the sea of college sports, high school scoreboards, and NBA lockout pandering you'll find the hockey corner of the online Oklahoman. There you'll discover NHL scores, the Barons schedule, tons of press releases disguised as Staff Reports, and the rarity that is an actual article (and, yes, that's my glowing example of an actual article). The journey of Barons team reporting is a rather ill-fated tale, one that seems baffling, but is indeed a fine example of the cash-strapped, jobless, economically recessed world we now live in.
In early February, 2010 Bob Funk Jr. stepped to a mic in the foyer of the Cox Convention Center to announce the birth of a new Edmonton AHL franchise in the heartland of the US. The announcement was a media frenzy. A dozen or so Canadian media outlets were in attendance, the local television news stations were present, as were the staff reporters of the Daily Oklahoman. The over century-old newspaper seemed ready to embrace a sport that indeed had an important place in the history of Oklahoma City athletics, and certainly a team of fresh-faced players that would eventually land in the National Hockey League. Or so we thought.
After a one year term serving as the primary beat writer for Oklahoma City minor league sports, Ryan Aber was re-assigned to cover high school sporting events. The tepid response from Barons' fans was inevitable as the lone man covering the team in the mainstream was sent to greener pastures, and more important things. Yes, those greener pastures in Oklahoma take the form of trips to Owasso on Friday nights covering high school football. Following his departure, the Daily Oklahoman did not (and has not) name a replacement writer to cover minor league pro sports. Gone were the locker room reports, injury updates, and game logs. Instead, the state's most-read news entity decided not to cover the team outside of built press releases written and delivered by the Barons and the occasional lackluster feature piece. In all, the mainstream media in Oklahoma City has chosen to ignore their hockey team.
The truth in this entire situation is that the Daily Oklahoman can't help but ignore the team. In early September, it was announced that Oklahoma Publishing Company and its various parts would be sold to a Anschutz Corporation after being in the Gaylord family since 1903 - longer than Oklahoma has been a state. The fact that the OPUBCO entities were up for sale in the first place is a shocking reminder of the state of the U.S. economy. In January of this year, OPUBCO and subsequently the Daily Oklahoman, announced that it would be laying off 46 employees. This followed two rounds of layoffs in 2008. Through all three rounds of early retirements and layoffs, the publishing company removed 253 individuals from their jobs.
My soul cringes when the seemingly bulletproof Oklahoma economy takes a dip. Unlike the majority of California and Florida, Oklahoma has seen the better part of the recession at least through 2011. Yet the effects are there, even if they aren't prominent.
So it all comes back to business. With the cutbacks at the Oklahoman, and the eventual sale, the mainstream media did what it had to do which is nudge themselves towards what sells. This, of course, means college football, NBA basketball, high school sports, the NFL, and the MLB. Moving writers into these spots means more coverage for these sports, more pageviews online, more opportunities for selling printed papers which, in the end, would lead to more advertising dollars. It seems simple enough, and quite frankly it is, but left on the outside looking in are sports that matter to some, even if they aren't the selling monsters the others might be.
This is not a disgruntled writer/reader pleading for the Oklahoman to cover the sport of hockey. Selfishly I benefit from the lack of mainstream coverage. The critique and reporting of Barons hockey here at Copper & Blue is unmatched in either print or online persuasions. The site you are now reading is the leading aggregator of Barons-related content. Subsequently this lag in mainstream reporting allows myself and others to bring attention to OKC hockey like never before. We now live in a time and age where online coverage can best even the sturdiest of mainstream content providers.
However, when the dust settles on the media debate it really falls both to the team and the fans to make the hockey club relevant enough that outlets like the Daily Oklahoman can't help but pay attention. Take a step back and look at the larger picture; you'll find that low attendance, overall customer satisfaction, and ticket sales are more to blame for ignorance than the play on the ice. In the heyday of hockey in Oklahoma, the team had a full-time writer, and the occasional featured writer. During that time 8,000+ in attendance was the norm. My have things changed.
As I meander through this post, I fully realize how foreign this must sound to the readership whom faithfully are emerged in hockey coverage. Can you count on one hand how many writers at the Edmonton Journal cover just hockey? You may have to use your toes as well. And still, the Barons and Oilers affiliation is happening at the most page-turning point in the chapter of Edmonton hockey. An Oilers club that is being hand-crafted for future greatness, also has a farm system that houses some fine prospects that are successful in their own undertakings. I almost feel a sense of regret for the mainstream media's lack of coverage (which is lacking in the televised news area as well, but that's for another time). They are missing out on archiving a great chapter not only in the sport of hockey, but in the Oklahoma sports showcase. If the Central Hockey League brought a foundation for hockey's sturdy build, then the Barons are it's brick and mortar. After all who knows what the future of sports will look like in this city in 20 years. In the meantime, let's make the most of our critical charm. Because, believe it or not, we have become the mainstream media.