Minor league sports teams feature countless giveaways to spark attendance. The Barons' marketing strategy this American Hockey League season is over the top compared to giving away a ball bat, T-shirt, hockey stick or bobble head doll.
The Oklahoma City Barons, the Triple-A affiliate of the NHL Edmonton Oilers, are giving away 12 vehicles with a total value of more than $300,000.
One fan will win a vehicle at every Saturday home game.
The dozen winners simply have to pay tag, title and tax and leave the Barons logo on the side of the vehicle for at least one year.
Prodigal Hockey chief executive officer Bob Funk Jr., who runs the Barons for the Oilers, said the AHL team spent around $1.2 million last year on marketing/advertising. This year, they shuffled some of their advertising dollars.
“When you put your money in direct marketing and don't get any return on it, you have to get a little more creative,” Funk said. “When we were sitting around talking about different ideas. This one just seemed to fit.”
The Barons have averaged 3,198 fans through seven home games, which is well under the season averages of the dormant Blazers of the Double-A Central Hockey League. Unlike the Blazers, though, the Barons give out few free tickets. The majority of Barons fans are paid customers. The three car giveaway nights have averaged 4,228 fans. The number is not a huge improvement — but it is an improvement.
“I don't think a lot of people believed it,” Funk said of the car giveaways. “They're just coming around to the idea that this is actually happening. Even if they don't win, they like to see somebody else win.
“People think it's a shooting contest or they have to shoot a puck into a ridiculously small hole to win. That's not the case at all. Someone randomly at every Saturday (home) game will win a car. Hopefully that engages people to come and see who wins the car.”
Three fans already have driven away from the Cox Center in a new vehicle.
Last Saturday, Debra Kramer won a Jeep Liberty Latitude.
Kenneth Cooley, who has worked on aircraft engines at Tinker Air Force Base the past 25 years, won a 2013 Dodger Challenger on opening night.
Jack Mitchell, a music teacher the past 30 years, won a GMC Sierra with a sticker value of $34,000.
“It's unreal,” Mitchell said. “I'm a schoolteacher. On a teacher's salary I can afford a new vehicle every few years but nothing like this that's fully loaded. It's such a blessing.”
The giveaway features 20 contestants who have a chance at winning the vehicle. There are various ways to be one of 20 finalists — fans in attendance, online entries and title sponsor drawings such as John Vance Motors, which supplies the vehicles.
Mitchell, who has been in charge of high school and junior high bands and choirs for three decades in Deer Creek, Oklahoma City and McCurtain County, was an online drawing winner. He won by guessing closest the total fluid ounces of Dr Pepper cans in the truck bed.
“My honor choir kids sing there almost every year. I thought that's why they called,” he said of the Barons. “Instead, it was a P.R. person who told me my name had been drawn and to come to the game. Then I won. It was unbelievable.”
Cooley, 55, is a longtime hockey fan who attends a few games every season. Little did he know he would win a Dodge Challenger, which has created a buzz everywhere he goes.
“I've always wanted one of those cars. It was a dream come true,” Cooley said. “When people drive by, they give me a thumbs up or a smile. They love it. A couple dozen people a day ask about it.”
“I hope this helps their attendance. The quality of play is fantastic at the Triple-A level. It's a lot of fun to go to those games. If more people would go I think they'd get hooked.”
The life of the Barons' vehicle wrap logo is about two years. Cooley plans to keep his logo on past the one year commitment. Mitchell said he'll do whatever the Barons recommend on the one-year anniversary.
“If it lasted a long time I wouldn't mind leaving it on,” Cooley said. “It's colorful. It's not so bright that it looks intrusive or gaudy. They've done a real good job with these (logo) wraps.
Friends at church and school have spotted Mitchell in a new Barons television commercial. He's on the Barons Facebook page and YouTube link.
“I know they don't have the draw the Thunder does, so they're trying something different,” Mitchell said. “I feel so lucky, so fortunate.”
If nothing else, Funk's strategy is unique.
“No. 1, we want to reward our fan base,” Funk said. “No. 2, we wanted to try a different method of marketing to get people in the doors. Thirdly, what could we do different that nobody's ever done before? Whether it works or not, let's have a little fun with it. Sports are supposed to be fun.
“If it doesn't work, next year maybe we'll try something different.”