At a recent day game, myself, my wife, my six year old, and my one year old, elected to attend an Oklahoma City Barons hockey game. When I say it is a rarity that my entire family goes to a game, believe me, it is. The challenges of moving two young children from house to parking garage to multiple bathrooms to game and back again is tough, an experience many of you readers can likely empathize.
When we rolled up to the ticket counter the cost for seats directly atop the Zamboni entrance was $81. (I do realize they sell $10 “walk up” tickets, but for my family we wanted to sit where we wanted to sit. Indeed there is freedom to pay $10, move to the lower bowl, but on this particular day the areas we would have liked to move to were pretty full. Thus we secured the regular priced ticket. $10 tickets were offered by sales rep) That was for three seats. We had a wonderful time, we spent money on concessions ($26.95), in the team store ($29), and the parking garage ($6). The game was very entertaining, my kids had a blast, and of course we all enjoyed the memory. But like so many others in Oklahoma City, it is going to be hard to make that trip more than once a year, mainly because of the price.
In an attempt to fully disclose the nature of my thoughts I must tell you a few things. I’m not a season seat holder, and never have been. As a matter of fact, I don’t attend even 1/3 of the home games (although I watch every game online, home and away). As a full time pastor the rigors of week-to-week activities can be treacherous, but more than anything else surprising. Thus my schedule does not pin well to the 38 games that the Barons play at home. That’s life, not an excuse.
But are there more like me? Are there families that the Barons need to help boost ticket sales that aren’t attending because the cost is too high? The answer to both questions is always yes.
The other day I wound up on the Fresh Beat Band website (parents, is the new Marina finally winning you over? me too!) searching through calendar dates for their next tour. My daughter, a huge fan, saw them once in Tulsa, loved their show, and is a fan for life much in the same way Kids Incorporated ruled my childhood. $31.25 is the cheapest price per person to see the band play live. To meet the band, tack on another $100. That is a huge chunk of cash to dispense for an family of four, so we can wait. Take that scenario and place it on Sesame Street, eating out, trips to Disney World, White Water, or any other family outings. Things cost a lot of money, and thus families pick and choose based on priority, and they certainly aren’t going to prioritize a full season of hockey games. Time and money are a huge reasons why.
That leads me to this. I don’t attend a lot of games because it isn’t important for my family. They love the game. They know their husband/father loves the game. We have a good time. But we like to eat on a daily basis, and three times at that. *With a population near 600,000, 31% of the population under the age of 18, 2.5 people per household, and an annual median household income just over $45,000 – man, hockey just isn’t high on the priority list for families in this state. It simply can’t be.
When you are trying to sell hockey, an unrecognized sport by the masses (in terms of understanding and enjoying the game), selling tickets is every bit a product of economic circumstance as it is “people just don’t care”. Targeting families might be the way to go if you’re spotlighting hockey as an entertainment option downtown, but it needs to be cost effective. I like what the Oklahoma City Redhawks do in the summer. They choose five or six home games where their one job is to sell the thing out. That’s it. Five or six times a season they want a sell out or at least close to it. Tickets are under $10 for incredible seats, hat and food vouchers are thrown in for good measure. Now that’s a deal. I understand the trappings of the hockey season falling in step with the NBA schedule, but loosening the ongoing price could help. It may not cure all the ailments, but for this family man, I believe it could help.
In the event that you’re reading this, rolling your eyes, and saying, “But they’ll pay money to watch the Thunder twice a month!”, I hear you. I also understand that the product in the NBA is vastly superior to the AHL in just about ever facet, especially in this state. Food, game, pre/post game activities, facilities, general appeal of the game, etc. etc. all beat minor league hockey. No one denies this. The Oklahoma City Thunder, though, will always have something that can’t be bought with money, managed by an entity, or created by extension. Simply put, it is a watercooler sport in this state. The day after a game everyone is talking about the close match up. The elbow thrown by Thabo. Durant’s technical and 40+ points. Westbrook’s latest injury saga. We can’t help ourselves, we like to talk about the cultural relevance of it all. The Barons aren’t even in the same relevancy league.
As for the solution, I think it isn’t fast nor quick nor simple. Pushing the price down helps. Offering additional food options helps. Maybe targeting groups other than families is a better business model. Maybe the Barons have done this. Regardless, it feels pertinent now more than ever to see the OKC Barons become a viable sporting option on the weekends in OKC. We hockey fans may not like the alternative. But are we all willing to change to protect what we love? It may not be a matter of “Do I?”, but rather “Can I?”
(A full feature on Barons attendance “year four” is coming in a few short days)