The fans have spoken, but what are they saying? Ladies and gentlemen...Derrick. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
The biggest selling point for the Oklahoma City Barons is the Oklahoma City Barons. The players on the ice are immensely entertaining, and have talent oozing from every fiber of their sports being. The pre-AHL hockey that had been played in Oklahoma is vastly different from the brand we now see. It's quicker, sharper, stronger, and more important to the grand design of professional hockey. Overall, the entire package is fantastic for fans of hockey in this city.
If the biggest selling point for Barons hockey is indeed the play on the ice, what are the other factors that persuade casual fans to commiserate in the Cox Center? I was a fan long before the first puck was dropped, but the majority of people in Oklahoma City are discovering this team for the first time. Through their curiosity there are things that inevitably draw people towards sporting events. Perhaps it's the ticket price, the food, the surroundings, the merchandise, or the overall fun value. Whatever it is that draws people in, we'll always critique ways of making it more appealing.
Today the Barons roundtable judges the off-ice product. What is the most important off-ice thing that needs to be changed over last season?
The roundtable today consists of Patricia, who's contributions to the blogging world at Artfulpuck are always entertaining; Scott, purveyor of the great minor league Oilers site OilFieldHockey.com; season ticket holder, photographer, and Barons chronicler, Candace who posts at A New Ice Age; Evan, the featured prospect writer for the notorious OilersJambalaya; Avid hockey fan, and Star Wars lover Jonathan; and, of course, your two lovable Copper & Blue writers, Neal and Eric.
Patricia: As a woman who loves the sport of hockey, I highly encourage the Barons to extend their "fan building" to include female hockey fans. As the Washington Capitals have discovered, there is a large female fan base out there and they spend money on hockey, both in ticket sales and in the team shops. Explore this and market it here in Oklahoma! I'm not talking about just selling a pink jersey in the shop, or objectifying the male players (although I must admit, a hockey calendar featuring the players would very likely sell out), but rather focusing in on a fan group who loves sports and who are for the most part ignored. For years the NHL assumed that female attendees were wives, girlfriends, and puck bunnies, along with a few serious hockey fans, but times have changed drastically!
On a different, but no less frustrating note, the OKC Barons website could use a thorough overall. At the moment it is dry and staid, much like the team and mascot twitter accounts. Mix things up a bit, have some fun! In addition to just posting announcements, engage with the fans! Social media is a great tool for both teams and fans if utilized properly.
And lastly, OKC Barons, please, PLEASE, include a pair of Hanson Brothers glasses as a freebie one night. If the Houston Aeros can do it, So Can You! Can you imagine the great photo op of an entire arena with fans wearing Hanson Brothers glasses? I foresee a billboard, or an ad at the very least! Think of the ticket sales! (I'll provide a list of the six games that you cannot hand them out, since I will be out of town.)
Scott: Communication with the Season Ticket Holders. We don't ever hear anything from the Season Ticket Holder Advisory Board.
Candace: Team access/fan relations: It took the better part of forever last year to get the guys out into the community and mingling with fans...I never understood this, because once they did, they were absolute shining stars. I felt the front office had too much of a stranglehold on things like the post game autograph sessions (obscenely short time limits & very few sessions to boot), because the vast majority of the guys really seemed to enjoy being out there with all the fans, kids especially. They weren't given the opportunity to really connect with things being so rushed. Fan relations were abysmal on most counts - almost like no one really cared to hear your opinion, because there's no way they could ever be wrong.
Promotion: Last season, the summer began with billboards going up in numerous locations around the city...and that was pretty much the end of it. Games really weren't announced ahead of time; mostly only the day of game over radio. In-house promoting wasn't any better, with the scoreboard displays often showing an incorrect date or time.
Evan: Some more work in marketing and PR in the region to build the game. It will take time, but consistency will help. People need to know the product is not an overnight operation. Build it as a pro league where stars are discovered and dreams are realized.
Jonathan: A lot of the little stuff was fine, I really think that there is more you can do to make Hockey more respectable in Oklahoma City. Advertisements still showed fights first, heck they focused a lot on Jake Taylor's fighting ability last year. The more you focus on fights, the more of a "joke" the team will feel. The CHL entertained with fights because the skill was lacking. We have the skill, so why are we still using a CHL advertising pitch? Lets push out some great plays, Get some Barons-owned camera guys to grab some of the awesome shots and send those out to news networks in pre-built packages. If the networks have the b-roll built for them, they are more likely to showcase the Barons on night broadcasts, and the Barons can control what clips are shown, thus eliminating fights, and showing sweet penalty shots or dangles instead. Was sad to see Ryan Aber moved away from the Barons beat, and nothing I've seen says that NewsOK is replacing him. With no one following hockey, the team needs to do their job for them. I promise you, if well edited news packages are dropped on KFOR's footstep after EVERY SINGLE GAME then you have a better chance of filling the Thunder-less sports cast with some Barons filler.
Eric: Crowd control, is the only way I can think of describing it. Many times last season while I was sitting in the 300's, I missed something due to people getting up during a play on the ice. Majority of the time, it was people being in the wrong seats because they were confused about what section they were in. Without a "100's" section, many people were sitting in the wrong level, thinking the 300's were the 200's, etc. Another issue was the Ice Girls and Derrick being active during play. I'm all for Derrick mingling with the crowd, but don't be making balloon animals in the middle of a section during the 3rd period of a tie game.
Neal: I genuinely believe that the greatest sell is the team itself. Not just winning, but winning fans. As lame as that sounds, I'd market the team, the team, and the team. Imagine a Linus Omark soundbite, or a Teemu Hartikainen sit-down video interview that humanizes a game of unfamiliarity. Challenge the community to embrace the way the game has become global. Force them to invest in a way that moves them from an autograph session one month to watching that same player on the NHL Network the next. I know that I instantly became a Zack Stortini fan after shaking his hand. When someone pointed out to me that Ryan O'Marra was a fan of country music I suddenly had a soft spot for the guy. Oklahoma City, like the rest of the world, likes a good sports hero. Thus the most important off-ice thing I'd like to see is simple. Give me more of the team, more often, and to more people.
Join us tomorrow as the roundtable discusses the goaltending tandem of LeNeveu and Danis that is headed our way.