An Open Letter To The Arizona Coyotes, From OKC

Logo via Wikipedia

Hello Arizona Coyotes! My name is Eric Rodgers, and I wanted to reach out to your organization, in the event that the city council meeting with the City of Glendale happens to result in them kicking your team – their one and only main tenant – out of their arena. As much of a silly idea that they would do this, I want you and your team to know that there is another city that is full of hockey fans that would welcome your team with open arms, and that is right here in Oklahoma City.

Located just 14 hours east of your current building, Oklahoma City is a bright and vibrant city that, wouldn’t you know it, is now open to receiving a new hockey team. You see, our previous professional hockey team just left us for the west coast and we’re kind of sad at the fact that we won’t have any professional hockey this coming season. But that’s where you come in!

Now, the building that you would probably have to play in, the Cox Convention Center, isn’t the best building when you compare it to places like the Staples Center or the United Center, but the good news is that it is freshly renovated with great locker rooms and a new ice plant that was installed just five years ago. Now, if that doesn’t quite suit your needs, there is another building right across the street that you may be able to talk the basketball team into letting you share. They’re just a bit possessive is all, but I’m sure they’d be willing to talk things out with you.

Our city has glowing recommendations from hundreds of hockey players, many of which have played within your organization while you were affiliated with the San Antonio Rampage. Our team that just left, many of the players were sad to leave this city and the community here, and I think that right there shows a lot of just how much of an impression we leave on players coming through here. (Just ask Mark Arcobello)

I’m sure you’re wondering though, would this city be equipped to handle such a move in such a short amount of time. The answer, is yes. You see, when the New Orleans Hornets were unfortunately forced to temporarily relocate their franchise ten years ago, our city jumped up and supported the Hornets during their tough time. I’m positive that our fine city would do the same once again.

Another possible benefit (and I say possible, because I can’t guarantee it personally) is that our city has a strong reputation of franchises going from struggling in the standings, to becoming perennial contenders. When the Seattle SuperSonics relocated here to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, they were consistently finishing in the bottom five of their conference. Now, it took a season or two, but now look at that team! Four straight division titles before this season, but anyone has to admit that injuries took a big toll on them.

And that hockey team I mentioned before? They all came from the Springfield Falcons (your 2015-16 AHL affiliate, oddly enough) before the Edmonton Oilers decided they wanted their own franchise. They never saw the playoffs in Springfield, but once they came to Oklahoma City – boom, playoffs. As I said before, a lot of that will depend on you, but I’m just saying, we have a good track record.

You could easily keep the Coyotes name when you move here as well, seeing as we have a strong population of coyotes in this state. There’s even a bit of history with the nickname here in Oklahoma City! From 1994 through 1996, we had a Roller Hockey International team named the Oklahoma Coyotes, which saw many former Oklahoma City Blazers players skate with the team during the summers. Just please bring back your logo from 1999-2003 full-time, that thing was awesome.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, I hope that things go well with the city of Glendale and that everything gets worked out. But just in case, I hope that this letter lets you know that there are options, and that we’d love to have you.

Yours always in hockey,
Eric Rodgers

ECHL Teams release their Protected Lists

ECHL teams released their Protected Lists yesterday which basically allows teams to “protect” a group of their players (based on the rules stated below) giving teams exclusive negotiating rights through July 1st. The more crucial list is a team’s “Season Ending Roster” (consisting of up to 20 players) which will be released on June 15th and teams can begin to sign players beginning June 16th. A team’s Season Ending Roster establishes the core of players for each team’s Qualifying Offers given to 8 of their players to be submitted by June 30th, and released publicly on July 1st.

You will notice that some teams protected a few of their players who have already signed overseas, however that just allows a team to negotiate with the player should their plans change.

Any ECHL Players who were assigned to an ECHL team by the National Hockey League or American Hockey League affiliate or team will not appear on the Protected lists since they cannot be protected.

Any in-season Future Consideration trades must be completed by June 13th. If your team owes a team a future consideration or another team owes your team a future consideration, those trades must be completed by June 13th.

“The ECHL on Tuesday announced the Protected Lists as submitted by each of its Member teams.

Teams are allowed to protect as many players as they wish provided the players protected meet the guidelines as defined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the ECHL and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association which state that teams shall retain the rights to each player that:

1. Signed an SPC in 2014-15 with the Member, and has not been traded or released, OR

2. Signed an SPC in 2014-15, and was recalled to the NHL/AHL or IIHF team, and has not been traded or released, OR

3. Had received a Qualifying Offer last summer for the current Season, DID NOT sign an SPC, and has not been traded or released, OR

4. Has been suspended by the Member or League, and has not been traded or released, OR

5. Signed an SPC on or after the first day of the 2014-15 Regular Season, then subsequently signed an NHL/AHL contract, and has not been traded or released, OR

6. Has executed the ECHL Retirement Form, and has not been traded or released.

Protected lists may exceed 20 players.

The ECHL also announced that teams must complete all Future Consideration trades by 3 p.m. ET on June 13 and that teams must submit their Season-Ending Roster by 3 p.m. ET on June 15.

Season-ending rosters may include up to 20 players and cannot include any players who did not sign an ECHL contract in 2014-15.”

View the ECHL teams Protected Lists. TTF will cover each step of this process through June and July. Stay tuned!

(Apologies for the delay in releasing this since your Tend the Farm crew was busy with our BIG news released yesterday.)

OKC Blazers “Interested” In Return, Joining ECHL in 2016

Brad Lund, Eric Newendorp, Chris Presson, Winston Ayala, Jay Lakin, Corey MacIntyre, DeBray Ayala at the “Blazers Summit” in Scottsdale. Photo via Brad Lund. 

If you live in Oklahoma City or were a fan of the OKC Blazers you surely remember the name Brad Lund. Lead executive for sixteen seasons and four-time CHL Executive of the Year, Lund was one of many responsible for the 90’s through 00’s success of the Central League Blazers long before the Oklahoma City Thunder came to town, but most certainly long before the Oklahoma City Barons were a possibility.

Lund is now co-owner and operator of Sold Out Strategies, a sports management and marketing agency in downtown Oklahoma City.

Over the weekend Brad Lund posted a series of tweets and photos that sparked a bit of discussion among long-time fans of hockey in OKC, and most certainly perked the attention of Blazers fans around the city.

In those tweets were photos and words that made you nostalgic for just a fraction of a moment. People and statements that hinted a return of the Blazers with some people that were there from the glory days not long ago.

Lund used phrases like “Return of the Blazers THINK TANK” and “Return of the Blazers Summit” and “Blazers possible return“. All things that many in these parts welcome with open arms. But what exactly did Lund mean? We asked him.

“I’m ready to talk about the future, not necessarily the past,” said Lund via telephone on Tuesday afternoon. “Historically the Oklahoma City Blazers did well. When the Hornets came to town (after Hurricane Katrina) it hit us, and it hit us hard. So, yes, we started giving away tickets, and selling discount tickets. Others have made it sound like we gave away tickets for seventeen years. We didn’t.”

Indeed, as the Blazers were overtaken by the presence of the NBA, the attention turned towards more major league things as the city evolved into a major league contender for a permanent team.

Long story made extremely short, the Oklahoma City Thunder moved from Seattle to the Sooner state. The Oklahoma City Barons began play two years later. The former seemingly pulled attention (and tickets) away from the latter, and the story ends with our beloved AHL Barons burning bright for only five seasons. The 2014-2015 season would be there last.

So Lund, and a group of six others, headed to Scottsdale, Arizona for a makeshift reunion, but more importantly to discuss the potential return of the Oklahoma City Blazers in the wake of the loss of AHL hockey.

“Me and six of my former employees got together in Scottsdale – part pleasure, part business – to talk about the pro’s and con’s of bringing back the Blazers,” explains Lund. “I posted the tweets in fun, but it started taking off. I even got a call from a reporter in Boston. It is amazing what a couple hundred followers, and a few tweets can turn in to.”

Indeed. The Oklahoma City hockey community it small, but it is tight, and news of this nature makes many curious.

Lund continues, “Nine of my former employees went on to be GM’s of sports team’s across the country. In my sixteen years with the Blazers, this is what I’m most proud of. To see the growth of the staff.”

With the assembling of former pieces of a successful staff, Lund and company are boldly attempting to bring Blazers hockey back to Oklahoma City.

Lund quickly gets to the point, “We have a business opportunity in the sports marketplace to put together an ownership for the return of the Blazers for 2016. I would establish the level of interest from perspective ownership groups as average to good. Never great until you have someone sign on the dotted line.” He continues, “We’ve had two existing ECHL franchise owners show interest in the market. There’s a reputable minor league sports broker out there that has a handful of clients interested. I’ve met with local business leaders in town, there’s even one former Blazer living in Canada now interested in owning the team. It’s out there.”

Out there indeed. With a dark period of major league hockey now upon us, the thought of a new owner, forming a new team, and possibly embracing a former market is quite thrilling. But there is still so much work to do.

“Fans have been saying over the last couple of months, ‘I hear you’re bringing back the Blazers,’ and I go ‘Where did you hear that?'” says Lund with a chuckle, “Most assume the pieces are in place when they aren’t. Not yet.”

Those pieces involve money, and lots of it. Lund explains, “This day and age sports is big business whether it’s the minors or the big leagues. It’s not a cheap business to get into. The investment opportunity we are talking about would be around two million dollars which counts the expansion fee, insurance, and general operating cash flow. Two million dollars to me, and a lot of others, is a great sum of money. You don’t just pop up the Blazers name and go. It is big business, you have to plan for the worst.”

And the upgrade from the CHL, which consolidated with the ECHL, brings about an operating budget vastly different than it was in the early 00’s when the Blazers were last playing in downtown Oklahoma City.

“An average ECHL budget is around three million dollars which roughly depends on how you do on the sponsorship,” laments Lund. “Which if we do half of what we did with the Blazers we would need to average a little under 4,000 people under full price for us to have a break-even model.”

That 4,000 number sounds familiar, and in five seasons the Barons of the AHL couldn’t muster those averages. But this approach to team building is different, as Lund and Sold Out Strategies look to separate owner from operator, as the local managers embrace nostalgia while moving forward.

“Some days I wake up and I think ‘Let’s do this’ and other days I wake up and think ‘What are you thinking?'” Lund says honestly. “In 1999 I said something that got me in a lot of trouble, but it is true – Oklahoma City is not a hockey town, it’s a Blazers town. We even had people cancel season tickets because I said that. I’m not trying to be a know-it-all, but I think the last five years have proven that. I do believe this is a Blazers town. You still see people wearing a Blazers shirt. I believe in the market. I believe in the Blazers brand. I believe in the brand more than the sport itself.”

Consider this for a moment. What if hockey is incapable of returning to OKC? What if the market is dying in terms of sticks and pucks? It could, and that is a frightful thing to consider given the legacy of sport in this town.

“I’m fearful that if a franchise isn’t activated in Oklahoma City in the next eighteen months this market could go dark for decades if not forever,” says Lund passionately. “We are working on it. We have no firm timeline in place. Something could happen very fast or it could take a while. The people I sit and talk to about this are extremely intrigued, and really get a kick out of it.”

When asked about the rumors of Northlands, owners of the Dallas and Texas Stars, moving their Idaho ECHL affiliate to OKC Lund says, “I’ve met with two existing ECHL franchise people, neither was affiliated with the Dallas Stars. I was not aware of those rumors, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.”

Lund has discussed this matter both with the city and SMG (managing entity of the Cox Convention Center) with whom he gets weekly updates on the matter.

The timeline is not fully realized right now, but the announcement will come late summer early fall, but with a deadline of January 2016 or else, as Lund explains, “You can kiss the 2016 season start goodbye because you don’t want to rush a business like this.”

For some this news is a change of pace. For others it is a celebration. Regardless, knowing that Oklahoma City is a desired market for someone helps ease the pain of recently losing a team. I say…fingers crossed.

(Thanks to Brad Lund for quickly returning my phone call, and for the interview. Thanks also to Eric Rodgers and Patricia Teter for their contribution to this story as well. We make a great team!)