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Greater Tulsa Reporter

Oilers Jerseys a Highlight with Fans

GTR Sports Writer

HAPPY WINNERS: Oilers player Devin Williams holds the jersey won by the Stewart family after a game last January. At left is Melissa Stewart and next to Williams is Mikel Stewart. The Stewart family won Williams’ jersey at the auction that night.

TeeJay Crawford Photography

Sweat drips from brows, teeth clinch and drama awaits following Tulsa Oilers games at the BOK Center. Whether the Oilers win or lose, the real battle begins in the ONEOK Club, where fans face rugged action, fighting it out for game-worn jerseys.

It’s auction time and for many fans represents the highlight of the evening, a growing trend at hockey rinks all across the nation. Players just off the ice return to help their teams sell specially-designed jerseys for big bucks. For the Oilers, minimum bids are $200 and the precious garments can reach $5,000.

Specialty jerseys are a license to print money for most teams.

“This has been going on for years in other leagues and in the last 10 years it’s kind of picked up momentum,’’ says Taylor Hall, general manager of the ECHL member Oilers. “Technology has made it easier to get creative, and fans love hockey jerseys. We’ve been doing it (auctioning) since the ‘90s and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.’’

 The Oilers had 12 auctions after games last season and Hall said the schedule will be the same for 2018-19. He said a new theme will feature the Ice Girls and many of the old ones will return.

“We always try to have different themes and concepts. We want to let our imagination run wild and to let the theme be very unique,’’ Hall said. “We have Pink in the Rink Night, Military Night and one to benefit autism and the Alzheimer’s Association. We had one for the Wild Turkey Federation and some fun ones like Christmas, Batman and Star Wars.’’

The Tulsa Oilers Hockey Jersey Collectors website proves just how enthusiastic fans can be. Organized by super fan Nathan Paul, the group has more than 330 members, and they stick together no matter what. When member Daryle Fox’s house was destroyed by fire, he lost 55 jerseys among a plethora of memorabilia. His jersey cohorts donated 30 or so replacements in a display of solidarity.    

“Facebook is good for people to connect and bring them together,’’ says Paul, who has over 200 jerseys. “They can buy, sell or trade and find what they’re looking for. They can reminisce about old times and stories. There is so much history there.’’

Many families create memories by winning jersey bids for the entire clan. The York family of York Plumbing, a major sponsor of the Oilers, is a constant presence at auctions along with John Horton and his family.

“I used to think I was (a major collector) until I met Nathan. We’re amateurs compared to him,’’ says Horton, who enjoys keeping up with winning bids and displaying then on Facebook. “We buy jerseys here and there and most of them are connected to players we like. Our girls make connections to players during the season and we try to get those. We don’t put them behind glass. We wear them. We don’t get jerseys because they’re a good investment. It’s all about memories. ’’       

Fans start showing up even before games are over. They must sign up for the auction and are given numbers. John Peterson, Oilers broadcaster and PR man, is the auctioneer with Hall serving to identify bidders. Hall said up to 300 people attend auctions with $300 as the average winning bid. The Oilers have a graphic designer on staff who creates many of the jersey ideas. Profits from the auctions go to the charities featured or to the Oilers for operational expenses.

Hall said as the number of auctions increase during the season, the amount bid for jerseys goes down, making them more affordable.

“I love to see fans wearing old jerseys because we get great advertising from them,’’ Hall said. “In the future we will have more on-line stuff, more digital auctions, but it’s fun right now with the atmosphere we have. Our guys come up and the fans cheer for them. It’s a great way for them to interact. It’s wild and crazy.’’

 Players model their jerseys, autograph them and take pictures with the winning bidder. Enjoy it while it lasts because future online auctions are set to include autographed jerseys, helmets, gloves and sticks. Hall says the current auction process is increasing attendance and the number of season ticket holders is growing. So are bids. 

“The most sought after (jersey) is John Vanbiesbrouck’s (NHL goalie who played for Tulsa). It sold at auction for $1,850, “ says Paul, a district manager for Safelite Auto Glass. “There is also a connection to the ‘90s because players stayed around longer and formed more relationships. But I think they had too many (auctions) last season. I spent so much money I don’t want my wife to know. In the future, it might be used in divorce proceedings.’’

While Paul is an avid collector, Horton has just 50 or so jerseys. Services manager at Tulsa International Airport, Horton lists Michel Beausoleil and Paxton Schulte among his favorite players. Memories mean more to him than game-worn sweaters.

“I do like turn-back-the-clock jerseys,’’ says Horton, who maintains contact with many former Tulsa players. “And I try to never miss an Oilers game.’’

With Paul’s website in year-round use, hockey season is now 24/7 in Tulsa. And there is one certainty for Hall and the Oilers. Hold an auction and money flows.

Updated 08-14-2018

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