Oklahoma City?

Jonathan Willis
November 25 2008 10:50AM

NewsOK reported today that Edmonton Oilers executives met with officials in Oklahoma City last weekend regarding the possibility of installing their AHL farm team in the city.

There are a number of reasons that Oklahoma City would be a more tempting location than Springfield, Massachusetts. The first is distance –- Oklahoma City is nearly 1,000 kilometers closer to Edmonton than Springfield. Oklahoma City is also 1,500 kilometers closer to the Oilers ECHL affiliate in Stockton than Springfield is.

Another reason is the available arenas. Ford Center, the current home of the NBA’s Thunder, and the Central Hockey League’s Blazers, can hold over 18,000 fans, and was built in 2002. The Blazers practice in the Blazers Ice Center, which doubles as the home of the University of Oklahoma men’s hockey team. In contrast, the MassMutual Center in Springfield has a peak capacity under 7,000 and was originally built in 1972. The question, of course, is whether an AHL team could draw more than the 6,500 or so fans that MassMutual Center can hold, a question which brings us to the third advantage of Oklahoma City over Springfield: attendance.

Falcons in Trouble

The Falcons have been a poor franchise for a decade now (the last time the team managed a .500 record was in 1997-98), and the uninspiring finish last season (fifth in their division) was actually the best the team had done in the last five seasons. It is perhaps unsurprising that attendance has suffered as a result. At the end of January last year, Falcons president Bruce Landon pleaded publicly for ticket renewal; the goal of 500 new season ticket packages was set. At the time, Landon made it clear what the alternative was:

“For the past six years, our fan base has been declining steadily. As a result, our financial losses continue to grow. If we are unable to reach our goal, there would be no way to lessen our continuing losses, and the operation would become financially unsustainable.”

Springfield through through games this year has an average attendance of just over 4,000 fans. That’s up from the 3,481 they averaged in 2007-08, a mark that was the second-worst in the league. Although there has been improvement, there is good reason to believe that a team in Oklahoma City would draw considerably better attendance.

The Oklahoma City Blazers currently lead the Central Hockey League in attendance –- and their average of 6,227 would put them sixth in the AHL. It isn’t far-fetched to think that the superior level of hockey played by an AHL team could draw even larger crowds.

The Oilers current partnership with the Falcons expires next year –- and the team’s economic struggles combined with the Oilers ownership of a dormant AHL franchise may mean that Oilers prospects are playing in Oklahoma City in the near future.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 I Am The Law
November 25 2008, 12:07PM
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It seems that after the joke of a farm system the Oilers have had until recently, Katz is serious about not only having a functional farm system, but a profitable one. About time the system was run like a business! I'd feel bad for Springfield for losing their team, but Oklahoma seems to be the hot place to be for sports these days, and it would be a good decision if marketed properly...

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#2 baggedmilk
November 25 2008, 12:43PM
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I don't like this one bit. Isn't Oklahoma where they have all the tornadoes? My beloved Robbie Schremp cannot get sucked up in a tornado. I would cry and cry, and jeanshorts would have to spend an afternoon getting me out of the crawl space again.

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#3 Dennis
November 25 2008, 12:56PM
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Having a relationship with people in a city own spoken about in expansion tones would be a nice piece of leverage for a guy if say he couldn't get all his own way when it came to asking for handouts for a new areana...

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#4 Jonathan Willis
November 25 2008, 01:14PM
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Dennis: I was thinking the exact same thing, but I've always been a fan of Katz over the EIG so I didn't mention it.

I also wondered if the possibility of NHL expansion is what kept AHL teams out of the city up to this point.

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#5 Wanye Gretz
November 25 2008, 02:52PM
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"jeanshorts would have to spend an afternoon getting me out of the crawl space again."

Just use a broom and thrash around. He'll come out sooner or later.

"Having a relationship with people in a city own spoken about in expansion tones would be a nice piece of leverage for a guy if say he couldn’t get all his own way when it came to asking for handouts for a new arena"

What does a fellow have to do to prove that he is in Edmonton for the long term? Does he need to build a bigger house? Offer more of his own money for the arena? Get a life sized tatoo of Galaxyland on his back? Name his children Corona and Grandin after LRT stations?

Kay-Z ain't goin nowhere and neither are the Oilers. If his intention had been anything but 'buy the Oilers and keep them in Edmonton' he could have bought a number of teams for tens of millions less.

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#6 shakey
November 25 2008, 02:53PM
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The Oklahoma City Oilers... Man that would suck if the 'ever-so-forward-thinking' dimwits at City Hall played with Katz and turned down an area proposal and he called their bluff. Someone always gets screwed when a bluff is called, ask Ryan Smyth.

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#7 Jonathan Willis
November 25 2008, 02:57PM
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I find myself agreeing with Wanye... I'm fearful of this development...

Seriously, though, while I very much doubt Katz would move the team, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he threw the possibility out there to cloud the issue.

Also, RE: the new arena, I don't live in Edmonton, so I don't particularly care what they blow all your tax dollars on, but if I did live in Edmonton I doubt my personal opinion would be "bend over backwards to save the billionaire some money by funding his new arena for nebulous long-term benefits".

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#8 B.C.B.
November 25 2008, 03:56PM
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I am not really fearful of this. Oklahoma city is just slightly bigger then Edmonton (same size possible fan base), doesn't have the same interest in hockey, and has a less blooming economy (oil will be valuable in the future, oil prices will go up). While the TV market may be bigger in the states, I still don't find reason to worry. Because, Katz would have thousands of empty drugstores; the drug store business is in Canada and is his main source of money. Why would he want to hurt that with all the bad press of moving an NHL team out of Canada.

I think this discussion is about the farm team. The Oilers have a suspended AHL franchise. It would be worth it to them to make it make money for the old roadrunners, opposed to be playing a third party (springfield). If the Oilers set up an AHL team in O'city: they would have a better chance of making money (plus if it turned out to be really popular, they could sell their lease on a moving NHL team for even more money).

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#9 Jonathan Willis
November 25 2008, 04:02PM
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B.C.B - I'm not fearful of the Oilers leaving town; I'm fearful that I'm agreeing with Wanye.

A money-making farm team closer to home is definitely in the Oilers' best interest; that said, this is an ugly development if you're a long-suffering Springfield fan.

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#10 Scott
November 25 2008, 04:20PM
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This is the biggest thing being talked about here in OKC, among the die hard hockey fans. The economic downturn hasn't hit hard here. And our gas prices have gone down, alot from six months ago. And there are companies(I work for one) here that provide Oil and Gas products that are used everyday in Edmonton. There are alot of good reason that this could be a win-win situation for both hockey clubs. I would welcome the AHL team here with open arms. OKC has had hockey here(except for the 1980's) since the days when the Blazers were the AAA team of the Bruins. This is a hockeytown!

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#11 Wanye Gretz
November 25 2008, 05:12PM
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I am floored that someone from Oklahoma is reading this site. Rock on Scott - if the Falcons do move there, consider yourself our official correspondant.

I am even more floored that Willis agrees with me on something. I'm going to go lie down.

WITH A LADY

ooowheeee!

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#12 Ender the Dragon
November 25 2008, 05:49PM
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Jonathan Willis Says: I also wondered if the possibility of NHL expansion is what kept AHL teams out of the city up to this point.

I worried about this as soon as I read the news. Just to be clear, I don't think the Oilers will ever be the Oklahoma Oilers. That doesn't mean, however, that there will never be an NHL franchise in Oklahoma City; indeed, it has been discussed several times in the past couple years as a logical city for relocation or expansion.

I don't know about you, but I think it's difficult enough to find enough fans to fill the seats for a second-tier club here in hockey-rabid Canada when you're competing against an NHL team for sports-ticket market share. (Edmonton Ice, anyone?) If the NHL ever does expand into Oklahoma City, it will be the death-knell for our AHL affiliate.

I'm not saying don't do the deal; the Falcons are hardly too good to let go of. I'm just saying don't write up your budget proposal based on a 10-year plan, because the AHL may not have nearly that long in Oklahoma City.

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#13 Scott
November 25 2008, 08:51PM
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Honestly, I don't think the NHL would survive here, but the AHL has a better fit to this city. The Ford Center is going through a renovation this summer. It's gonna be alot better then what it is now. But I am humbled by the honor of being the official correspondent if the move is done. I'm crossing my fingers that this does happen. But my feelings will go out to the unfortunate fans that have to lose out.

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#14 Dennis
November 25 2008, 09:38PM
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I'm not saying that I think Katz will move his hometown club away but I am saying that I wouldn't be in the least shocked if he didn't use his new partnership as leverage and honestly he wouldn't be doing his job as a businessman if he didn't.

I'm a guy who was an Expos fan so I know what it's like to see your team move but I'm also a guy - while not being an Edmontonian - that doesn't support public money for private enterprise.

Combover Lowe has semi-retired from the GM job to focus on glad-handing for the new building - when he can take the time out from planning potential throttlings - which proves Katz is breaking out the heavy nostalgic artillery in an effort to pilfer as much public money as possible for his new building. Does anyone want to debate that?

And love of the team or not I think there has to be some strong leadership who puts their foot down when it comes to deciding just how much is enough to offer.

It would gut me to see the team leave -- and I'm not suggesting for a second that they will - but if I lived in your city I'd rather see money spent on education and health care then on a pro sports team.

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#15 Wanye Gretz
November 25 2008, 10:45PM
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Dennis -

You certainly make valid points and I can understand your thoughts on spending public money on education and health care rather 'than on a pro sports team.'

I think the thing to consider though is the economic impact of the Oilers. People generally cringe when this is brought up in the arena debate.

But it is hard to argue the large economic impact that the Oilers have on Edmonton. In sheer economic value, money injected into the economy and even the employment rolls of employees, not to mention all of the ancillary businesses that thrive in their wake - the Oilers are certainly a large revenue generator in the city.

Not to mention all of the value to the city as a brand with its constant mentions on newscasts, newspapers, magazines and the radio for 9 months of the year. Identity is a hard thing for a city to achieve and like it or not "the Oilers" and the "gigantic mall" is the only thing that many around the world know about Edmonton.

The value of a sports franchise is difficult to determine but it is large. An arena that costs $200 million to build will put well and above that amount into play in the local economy. If times get really bad, a gigantic public works project in Edmonton is precisely the kinds of projects the City and the Province need to look at partially subsidizing. This could be roads, schools or yes - public buildings like the arena.

In no way do I think the Governments should fund the entire building, but creative financing arrangements - because the Governments want to assist the development of this large project that they agree is of value to Edmonton and Alberta - should be looked at in the interests of growth and the financial heath and positive image of the Province.

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#16 Wanye Gretz
November 25 2008, 10:46PM
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After writing that rant might I add -

Isn't Back to the Future III a great movie? Man that Marty McFly gets into some scrapes. That's time travel for you I guess!

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#17 Chris
November 26 2008, 08:34AM
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I agree with Wayne. Every arena in every small town is built with public funds. Why shouldn't it be the same in Edmonton only on a bigger scale? A new arena is a benifit to a growing community as are new roads etc. It's just part of urban infrastructure people!

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#18 Jason
November 26 2008, 03:12PM
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Oklahoma City has led the Central Hockey League in attendance in each of the 16 seasons of play and all of North American minor pro franchises five times - okcblazers.com

Bring on the AHL and it would only get better. Although OKC is developing a bad habit of "stealing" other cities teams recently. Sorry. O well.

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#19 Jack
November 26 2008, 03:54PM
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Another OKC resident here. Bring on the AHL team, I say. I also think the Oilers need to pay serious attention to the current Blazers coaching staff as well. It's amazing what Sauter & Co. are able to pull off with very little talent.

There are other benefits too: with the NBA having just relocated here, we are performing $120M in upgrades to the already-classy Ford Center -- it already boasts modern lighting, sound equipment, High-Defition broadcasting, top-tier Internet connections, premium skyboxes, the works. The $120M is going towards upgrades on parking, seating, video screens, retail space, and more. That gives the Oilers a great venue to build their long-term prospects on.

I think OKC would be a fine choice, with an arena that will be second-to-none in the AHL.

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#20 Jonathan Willis
November 26 2008, 04:31PM
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Jack: Ron Chimelis, in The Republican has done an amazing job on this story - the most vital link is here.

In any case, Chimelis talked to Robert Funk Jr., the President of the company that owns the Blazers:

"There is no basis to that story," said Robert Funk Jr. Funk said if a new pro hockey team were to come to Oklahoma City, Blazers management would almost certainly be involved. "Part of our mandate with the city is to look for a higher level of franchise, from the AHL level or even, someday, with an NHL team," Funk said. "There is no viability for it at this time, and I don't expect it in the (foreseeable) future."

He doesn't sound particularly happy about the idea.

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#21 Something’s wrong in Springfield - OilersNation
January 16 2009, 12:05PM
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[...] been pretty classy in his public statements as rumours swirl that the Oilers do not intend to renew their affiliation with Springfield. He’s basically said [...]

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