The Oilers' AHL affiliate is sinking. Will the Oilers pull the plug and head west?
In Oklahoma the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. The reason? There aren't any people in the way to block the wind. We've written extensively about the Barons' attendance issues in the past and the solution to the problem was never clear. Was it ownership, management, the arena, the fans, competition with high school football, competition with Sunday services or the lure of the Thunder? Even our Oklahoma City-based commenters couldn't agree. But there was always hope that attendance numbers would get better.
In fact, the Barons are last in the AHL in per game attendance. The Cox Center is so empty, the PA announcer just stands behind the bench and comments on the game to the few people surrounding him.
The Edmonton Oilers version of the Springfield Falcons moved to Oklahoma City three years ago and since then, the Barons have been a bottom-tier team in AHL attendance. Below are the total attendance numbers from the last two seasons and the first two months of this season:
Oklahoma City is 26th in attendance over that time span.
Prodigal Hockey (owner/operator of the Barons) can't blame the players. The Barons were a playoff team in their first season and captured the top seed in the Western Conference in their second season. This year, the Barons have had the benefit of using a number of Edmonton Oilers regulars and though they currently sit 8th in the conference, the Barons have the league's two leading scorers and three top scorers by points per game. Yet still, the attendance lags.
The Oilers' agreement with Prodigal Hockey contains an out clause that allows the Oilers to find another affiliate should Oklahoma City attendance drop below 5,000 per game. Unfortunately, Oklahoma City attendance has yet to rise above 5,000 per game. Prodigal has had plenty of time to get the Barons' house in order, but it seems as if though this relationship isn't a fit. Neal Livingston has repeatedly mentioned how Oklahoma City fans are turned on by fisticuffs - after three years of solid hockey, I believe him - Oklahoma City is probably better-suited for ECHL hockey.
Rumors of an AHL shift to the west persist, and given the climate in Oklahoma City, it wouldn't be a shock if the Oilers were to exercise their out clause and pursue an affiliate in the Mountain or Pacific time zone. If Stockton can draw nearly 6,000 fans per game for the ECHL, there are certainly more fruitful markets available to the Oilers for their AHL affiliate.