The Oklahoma City Barons are undergoing a transformation similar to what San Antonio's hockey market experienced a decade ago.
The Alamo City faced challenges developing a new brand in an NBA market after a Central Hockey League team was disbanded 10 years ago.
The CHL Iguanas were replaced by the Rampage, a Triple-A team in the American Hockey League.
“For us it wasn't the product on the ice per se,” said Rampage director of business operations Ryan Snider. “It's family entertainment. It's about growing the fan base for a great product at a great price. It takes time.”
San Antonio, the Triple-A affiliate of the Florida Panthers, initially struggled at the gate.
In its fifth AHL season the Rampage was averaging 4,132 fans a game. Last season San Antonio averaged 7,134 and has averaged more than 5,200 the past five seasons.
“We make sure everything we do outside of the game is top notch,” Snider said. “People come away from it having a great time. We went through a long process of getting people here for the first time. When they get here and see hockey in person, that's what gets them excited to bring them back.”
Prodigal CEO Bob Funk Jr., who runs the Barons for the Edmonton Oilers, believes Oklahoma City eventually will enjoy similar success.
Jon Beilstein, the Barons' executive vice president of sales, has talked several times with Snider. One of Beilstein's first hires was Sam Bays, who oversees ticket sales after spending seven years in the Dallas Stars system.
“It took (San Antonio) five years to turn it around,” Beilstein said. “I absolutely look at this the same way. Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to be done the right way? Yes.”
Snider wasn't with the organization during the Rampage's early years but was told there was some backlash from Iguanas fans similar to what Oklahoma City is experiencing with Blazers fans.
“It takes time for people to trust the new product,” Snider said. “You have to grow a new fan base, which takes time. You're seeing Oklahoma City use a lot of the same principles we implemented, which will pay off in the long run.”
The Spurs own the Rampage. Even though the Barons are owned locally, Funk said challenges the two franchises have faced are similar.
“San Antonio dug themselves out of a serious hole,” Funk said. “It's going to take us awhile to dig out. But I think we can definitely follow the San Antonio model. They're doing very well.”
A look at the Barons
This is the final story in a four-part series examining issues that have affected Barons' attendance and the franchise's plan moving forward:
Thursday: With an elite NBA team and two prominent Division I programs the Barons are attempting to sell Triple-A hockey in a highly competitive market.
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.