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November 25th, 2010 - Dean Anderson

Barons look to tap new fan base

The lifeblood of any professional sports franchise is its ability to sell tickets and connect with its fans.

newicemh_7-06x4-73cmPhoto/Mark Hancock
The lifeblood of any professional sports franchise is its ability to sell tickets and connect with its fans.

The lifeblood of the now-defunct Central Hockey League team Oklahoma City Blazers was to find corporate sponsors to write big checks and then give tickets away.

Robert Funk Jr. is president of Prodigal Sports LLC, which formerly owned the Blazers and now owns the American Hockey League's Oklahoma City Barons.

He says the mistakes of the former won't be repeated by the latter.

"We scrapped the entire organization," Funk says. "We've only brought really five people from the old organization, and they were mainly on the operations side. Even then, we've changed a lot of our policies. Really, what we've completely revamped is the way our revenue streams are structured. We are a ticket-focused organization. Really affordable family entertainment is what we want to be."

To that end, Funk hired John Allgood from the Oklahoma RedHawks. The club's former executive director was a mainstay in public relations for his ability to help the baseball franchise bring people through the gates.

Under Allgood, the RedHawks set minor-league attendance records in Oklahoma. Now the goal for both men is not only to bring hockey back to its glory days in the metro, but to take it where it's never gone before.

"Having such a strong hockey history and hockey fan base in Oklahoma City already, it's honestly not difficult," Funk says. "The task at hand now is to grow that base. I think we've taken the right steps by taking hockey to another level. Having the highest level of professional hockey available to us without being in the NHL is probably the best step to get there."

Photo/Steven Christy/OKC BaronsWHAT WENT WRONG
Funk says the Blazers' business model built around corporate sponsorships helped lead the league in attendance for 16 seasons, but didn't do much for the bottom line. He admits the organization wasn't "fan-centric."

"We're trying to re-educate everyone and let them know it's different than it was before," he says.

Funk contests that the arrival of the Oklahoma City Thunder had anything to do with the Blazers abandoning ship. The NBA and the CHL are two different animals, with two different fan bases, he says.

left mh

right steven christy/okc barons The Barons' recent opponents have included the Houston Aeros and Toronto Marlies.

But there's no doubt having an NBA franchise in town created tension and took away dollars from the team.

Since the two shared Ford Center, scheduling was a major gripe for the Blazers. The Thunder got its pick of home dates, which meant New Year's Eve
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