The Edmonton Oilers, the NHL parent club of the Barons, signed a five-year deal with the city of Oklahoma City and Prodigal CEO Bob Funk, Jr., that runs through 2015.
Even though Barons' attendance has sagged the first three seasons, both sides anticipate signing a three-year option that would extend the contract through 2018.
“We like the way Bob Funk and his group is approaching the business side, and we really like the people of Oklahoma City,” said Oilers CEO Patrick Laforge. “This is a very giving community, a place we can grow our prospects. This is the type of environment you look for.”
Oiler officials rave about the Barons' facilities and first-rate living arrangements for players. They like being in the same time zone and Will Rogers airport, which makes travel easier for prospects called up to Edmonton or a player sent to Oklahoma City.
But the primary reason Oilers officials are happy is their players are happy.
“If a player's aspirations is to get to the major leagues, and they're not there, yet, you want to put them in a good, positive environment,” said Kevin Lowe, Oilers president of hockey operations. “That's what we have here in Oklahoma City. We're very pleased.”
The Oilers understand it's a city devoted to the Thunder, a popular NBA team, and two prominent Division I programs (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State).
“You can look at that as a positive or a negative,” said former Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini. “The positive is people care about sports here and are active. They're involved. They're passionate. You hope some of those fans become hockey fans.”
The Oilers' master plan is to methodically build a winner, promoting prospects that hone their skills in Oklahoma City.
“They're sort of taking the philosophy of putting their guys in the AHL and letting them cook until they feel they're matured,” Funk said. “They want them to gain a lot of good experience before they bring them up. That's good for us and them.”
Having missed the playoffs the past seven seasons, the Oilers are in the early stages of a rebuilding project.
“The timing for us was perfect because they were kind of restarting and so were we,” Funk said. “It's a good arrangement for both parties.”
This is the second of a four-part series examining issues that have affected Barons' attendance and the franchise's plan moving forward:
Friday: The Edmonton Oilers, the Barons' NHL affiliate, are committed to Oklahoma City. Oiler officials love the city, facilities and player living arrangements in Bricktown.
Saturday: Barons' vice president of sales Jon Beilstein, hired nine months ago after a successful run in Grand Rapids, is confident he can have similar success in Oklahoma City.
Sunday: San Antonio went through a similar CHL to AHL transformation 10 years ago. Attendance lagged the first five years but now is among AHL attendance leaders.