When four of the Edmonton Oilers' top young stars opened the season in Oklahoma City during the lockout, Jon Beilstein, the Barons new executive vice president of sales, said his focus was developing a long-term strategy rather than promoting NHL players.
Beilstein, a Chicago native who was hired last August, believes the same game plan he used for 11 years to help Grand Rapids, Mich., become one of the American Hockey League attendance leaders can be successful in Oklahoma City, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oilers.
“This is more of a nontraditional (hockey) market with more competition,” Beilstein said. “But you need to stand on your product. We have to provide the best overall experience for the dollar.
“Will we be able to pull in die-hard OU and OSU football fans or (Thunder) basketball fans? Maybe not. But there are plenty of things we can do. We've had a lot of feedback where people have a really good time. We just need more people to sample this product. And it can't be just about hockey.”
A lifelong hockey fan, Beilstein embraced having young Oilers stars Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz play in Oklahoma City. But his focus since he was hired was building a fan base from the ground up.
One of Beilstein's first decisions was to divide the staff into separate groups with specific responsibilities. This summer, some salesmen will focus on group sales, others on individual and season ticket sales.
Beilstein said the first step is securing a season-ticket base, which the Barons already have established. The Barons have an 84 percent renewal rate for next season from 2,500 full season equivalent tickets, which includes mini packages and flex plans.
The next step is improving group sales, a priority next summer.
“In Grand Rapids, I averaged 54 people per group,” Beilstein said. “This season in Oklahoma City, we're below 20. The big businesses like Tinker Air Force Base, whoever it might be, it takes a lot of time during the offseason to develop those types of relationships.”
After college, Beilstein was a PGA member/teaching pro for seven years. The next 15 years he worked in various businesses ranging from life insurance annuities to financial resources in St. Louis.
When he learned he would become a father, he no longer wanted to fly 180,000 miles a year. While in St. Louis, he formed connections with the St. Louis Blues, which led to the opportunity with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“Their first three years, they drew well but their attendance was spiraling downward when I got there,” Beilstein said. “The model we used there is the same model we're using here. It's going to take solid increases every year. It won't be done on gimmicks. It takes longer. But once you get there it stays.”