In what could be a big shocker in the news cycle of Oklahoma City hockey, the Barons announced on Thursday that they would cease operations at the end of the season after not being able to come to an agreement with the Edmonton Oilers on a new affiliation contract, one that looked like the OKC Barons seeking a better economical structure for the Barons to be viable.
The CEO of Prodigal, Bob Funk, Jr., put out this comment on behalf of the Prodigal team who owns the OKC Barons
Without a more equitable financial agreement with economic terms to provide the best opportunity for sustained success, we can no longer justify additional investments in the operations without higher returns. We have the highest regard for the Edmonton Oilers organization and it has been a privilege serving as its primary development club. Even though we were not successful at completing an agreement, we have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Edmonton Oilers’ management and coaching staff over the past five years.
Before the Barons, the OKC area was served by the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League who played from 1992 until 2009, be able to attractive upwards of 8,000 on average on the season. However, the team ceased operations when they withdrew their lease with the city saying it wasn’t economically feasible.
As pointed out in the The Oklahoman piece, the Barons have been in the bottom five of attendance in the 30 team AHL and still haven’t been able to get their foot in the door with the whole entertainment marketplace, especially since the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team is one of the more exciting tickets in town. Even with promotions like $1 hot dog and $2 beer nights every Friday, the Barons hadn’t been able to recreate the magic they had their inaugural year, where they drew an average of 4,155 fans to their home games.
However, it’s not as if OKC is a terrible place to be. Funk, Jr. said that the fans did their best to help promote the team and the players enjoy playing there, as forward Matthew Ford said that coming back to OKC was big on his priority list for the off-season last year. Word has it that when the big three young stars for the Oilers– Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins– made their way to the AHL for the past lockout, they enjoyed playing there and the facilities around it. Ford, who had played for eight AHL teams, had this to say to The Oklahoman about OKC in comparison:
It’s everything, from living arrangements to being able to practice in a facility like Cox. Not all AHL teams have that luxury. Some have to practice at a rink a half-hour out of town. Here it’s within walking distance from where most of the players live. And the people of Oklahoma City are great.
This does nothing to quell the rumors about the AHL West division, but it’s not as if OKC was that far east as it was. The big thing now is the Oilers now have to scramble to see where they are going to put their AHL team next. It’s all dependent upon what does happen with the AHL West, as the Oilers would probably need support from other teams to get going, as AHL CEO Dave Andrews said that four or five teams would have to commit to the project to make it work. Plus, the AHL have the big by-law of teams not being able to share affiliates.
What’s going to happen next with the silly season of minor league hockey, who knows– but it now gives in to a lot of speculation to the AHL West and to what other dominoes are going to fall.