Pomp and circumstance marches are a May tradition. Graduation ceremonies are milestone events.
For the Oklahoma City Barons, though, May brings the challenges of selling playoff tickets.
Ideally, the Barons would host American Hockey League playoff games on weekend dates, but the Cox Convention Center is booked for seven graduation days this month, including five weekend dates. Every April, the FAA is among of a handful of other events that book weekend dates at the Cox Center.
“We're at the mercy of the facility,” said Prodigal CEO Bob Funk, Jr., who runs the Triple-A team for the Edmonton Oilers. “We just don't get the availability that we'd like to have.”
This weekend, Oklahoma City Community College is holding graduation ceremonies Friday night at the Cox Center. Three Edmond high schools have the building booked all day Saturday. Putnam City North and Deer Creek will hold graduation ceremonies on Sunday.
The FAA every year has a weekend booked in April, which usually coincides with the first round of the AHL playoffs.
In even numbered years the Oklahoma Dental Association holds a convention downtown that coincides with the marathon, which eliminates potential hockey dates.
“Part of the purpose that building is for public service,” said SMG general manager Gary Desjardins, who runs Chesapeake Arena and the Cox Convention Center. “We have empathy for the Barons. They are a resident tenant. The Barons have been really good about understanding. We try to make it work as best we can.”
Graduation ceremonies are scheduled years in advance. Contracts usually are signed the previous summer, 10 months in advance. That's part of the reason why the Barons are stuck with home playoff games this week on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The Barons have made the playoffs all three seasons. But there's no guarantee they'll play beyond the end of the regular season in mid-April.
“We understand that,” Funk said. “It's really more frustrating because of the unpredictability of it. If we want, we have the capability of moving (ceremonies), but there are some financial issues that go with that.”
The Barons can negotiate to move graduation ceremonies across the street to Chesapeake Arena. But when they go that route the school must agree to move to Chesapeake.
Another variable is scheduling around the Thunder's NBA playoff schedule.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” Funk said. “We don't know what the Thunder's playoff games (from round to round) are going to look like.”
Relocation costs to move graduation ceremonies can cost as much as $20,000 a game. Part of the relocation costs are tied to crews building a stage and removing seats at Chesapeake. After graduation ends, the crew must set up the court and reinsert seats for Thunder games.
Last year, the Barons used that strategy once to move Deer Creek's graduation to Chesapeake during the Western Conference finals against Toronto.
“It doesn't make any sense for us to do that in the early rounds,” Funk said. “But if we get to the third round (Western Conference finals) or fourth round (AHL finals), then it might make sense to spend the money to move things around a little bit.”
If the Barons advance that far this time, graduation ceremonies might not be an issue because of where Oklahoma City is seeded.
Seeded fifth, the Barons are the lowest remaining team in the Western Conference. If they win the second round series with the Texas Stars, then Oklahoma City would start the Western Conference finals on the road. Last year, they were the top seed and started the Western Conference finals at home.
Selling postseason tickets to minor league playoffs is a challenge in itself. Minor league playoff attendance in nearly every sport usually dips.
Group sales are essential to minor league organizations. But group sales are developed over time. Teams don't know their playoff dates until days before they host a playoff game.
“The first couple of rounds attendance isn't that great unless it's a place where hockey is really big like Hershey,” Barons coach Todd Nelson of the Pennsylvania town. “But once you get to the third and fourth rounds people start coming out.”