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OKC Barons: Barons will try other ideas to attract fans

The Cox Center seating capacity will be reduced to 6,468 next season. Car giveaway will likely remain, but it will be on a limited basis.
By Mike Baldwin Published: April 4, 2014

Minor league sports teams are legendary for trying unique strategies to attract fans to games where winning and losing isn’t as important as providing a fan-friendly environment.

No one, though, has ever attempted something like Prodigal CEO Bob Funk Jr., who runs the Oklahoma City Barons for their National Hockey League partner, the Edmonton Oilers.

Over a two-year period, Funk will have given away 27 brand new vehicles worth an estimated $820,000.

Someone at Saturday’s home game against Charlotte at the Cox Convention Center will win a Volkswagen Golf. On April 19, another person will become the 27th winner, the owner of a Volkswagen Beetle.

“When you come to a Saturday home game, the excitement of knowing some fan will win is a unique experience,” said Barons vice president Jon Beilsten. “It’s not a one-time thing. The anticipation goes beyond the contestants. Fans really get into it.”

Traditional minor league giveaways often include: bats, replica jerseys, hats, sticks, T-shirts, plastic helmets and bobblehead dolls.

In an attempt to boost attendance, Funk switched a large portion of his budget toward giving away nearly $1 million dollars worth of vehicles in a promotion called “Drive Away Every Saturday.”

“I’ve never heard of a pro sports franchise, major league or minor league, that’s ever attempted anything near this big,” Funk said. “The car giveaway helped our branding, but it didn’t put (fans) in the seats. It shows we’re not afraid to try something different.”

The Barons are in their fourth year in Oklahoma City with one season left on a five-year deal with the Oilers. The Barons have struggled at the gate. They rank 27th in the 30-team American Hockey League in attendance, averaging 3,272 fans a game.

But there are positive signs. Group sales are up. There’s a loyal 2,000 season-ticket fan base, which ranks among the top third in the league.

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