Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Tremendous Opportunity

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Tremendous Opportunity

Article excerpt

Having covered the adventures of cities seeking major league sports franchises several times as a reporter, I'm thoroughly amazed at the bickering and doubts of numerous Oklahomans, though I should not be surprised.

We are blessed with a rare opportunity -- the combination of a tremendously strong ownership seeking a National Hockey League franchise for the new $84 million arena that is part of the Metropolitan Area Projects. It's a combination most cities can only dream about.

The proposed ownership is headed by the Oklahoma Publishing Co. and Edward L. Gaylord, who has extensive experience in sports and other entertainment operations. The arena will open debt free as a result of the MAPS sales tax, and that gives the potential owners a significant competitive advantage. That's one helluva deal, but radio talk show callers reflect a remarkable negative attitude. They don't believe people will pay major league ticket prices here, and, more important, they just don't believe Oklahoma City can succeed in the big leagues. I heard the same questions about ticket prices in cities such as Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Miami, Phoenix, Denver and Charlotte before they entered the big leagues, but they were balanced by excitement and hope. Those cities wanted a chance to be big league, and that's the enthusiasm we need. What most people don't understand is the difference in the markets for hockey and other sports. Baseball requires a large population base -- about 5 million or more -- because teams play 82 home games and need 2 million fans a year to succeed. Most people see three or four games a year, so a team must attract more than a million individuals. It's a broad-based game. The same 60,000 people go to every pro football game in a given city, but TV income requires a big market. Even Green Bay succeeds partly because Milwaukee has no NFL team. Hockey fans are a different breed. They overcome all kinds of hurdles -- financial and distance -- to see their game. In most cities outside of Canada, about 35,000 people make up the core of fans who produce the needed average of 16,000 a game. That's the reason Oklahoma has a chance to succeed in the NHL. Oklahoma City and Tulsa both have well-established hockey fans, and the TV market will include nearby states. Will they pay major league prices? OPUBCO has the experience and resources to take that risk. Some reporters question a potential conflict of interest in Mayor Ron Norick becoming a part owner. They worry about him making money on the arena after leading MAPS. If people are so worried about NHL ticket prices, they should worry about him losing money. The fact is he is not a part owner now, and OPUBCO certainly does not need his money to make the deal. …

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