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!)