Months ago, the NHL introduced the Stadium Series, which will be 4 extra outdoor games, on top of the already existing Winter Classic and Heritage Classic. That jumps the number of outdoor games from 2 to 6. Here’s a list of all the games, just in case you don’t know already:
January 1 – Winter Classic: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings @ Michigan Stadium
January 25 – Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings @ Dodger Stadium
January 26 – New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils @ Yankee Stadium
January 29 – New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders @ Yankee Stadium
March 1 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks @ Soldier Field
March 2 – Heritage Classic: Ottawa Senators vs. Vancouver Canucks @ BC Place
There are those fans who are thrilled with this, and there are those fans who are vehemently against it. Both sides have very good reasons to their argument.
Since the advent of the Winter Classic in 2008, where the Penguins faced the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, fans have been clamoring for their team’s chance to host the game. The New Year’s tradition that sparked was such a big hit, that people were fighting over which city should host it next. So far, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia hosted the Winter Classic, and Edmonton and Calgary have hosted the Heritage Classic, the Canadian edition of the Winter Classic later in the season. Washington has been announced as the 2015 host, venue and opponent undecided.
Fans sold out every single game, with the hopes of attending this once in a lifetime event. They showed up and braved the cold to every game and event leading up to it, including alumni games among others. The fans also bought all the new merchandise that come with the game, such as new uniforms and winter hats for example. Also, with the game nationally televised, fans can sit down together with their families on New Years’ Day and watch the game together.
The teams also hope for the game to come to their city also. As mentioned above, there are tons of new merchandise opportunities and ticket sales opportunities to capitalize on. Filling a football stadium or baseball park with fans who want to buy merch and concessions brings them big revenue, and that isn’t even including the advertising and TV rights they get. It’s a financial boost to their bottom lines, with the hopes that it will return soon. This also goes for the road team, as fans travel up and still pay for everything. It helps everyone financially.
The players love it too. Many of the players reminisce about the times they were a kid growing up in a Northern locale, braving the elements and playing shimmy games on the frozen ponds. Not to mention the national recognition they get when they step on the ice surface, under the lights and in front of tens of thousands of eyes in the stands and the millions watching at home. It’s a whole new experience that the players know come very infrequently, and they long for it every year.
However, since 2008, there has been one, maybe two games played outside per season, making it a very special game for fans and players and upper management all the same. But this year, there are 6 games. Is this watering the product down?
I do understand that most teams want to host the Winter Classic if they can. It’s understandably tough for teams in Southern communities like Phoenix or Florida. That test will be performed in Los Angeles in 2 months. But when it was a once a year thing, everyone wanted to be that one team who was hosting it. Not that it’s made out to be a jealousy bit, but it was special for that host city to have the festivities and events surrounding the game itself going on in the city, much like the All Star Game, for instance. The fact that 4 new cities and one repeat city are hosting the games make might dilute the overall product of the event. Think of having two All Star Games in a season. The thought of it is blasphemous.
With this new amount of teams playing, as expected, there are a couple of repeated teams. The Penguins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, and Rangers have all participated before in outdoor games. This will include the third games for the Rangers and Penguins. It seems, to some fans, that the NHL is repeating some teams, such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, or the Rangers. Those teams also have the majority of national broadcast games. Some fans may take it as a slight to their team who are less recognized by national networks.
That being said, I think it’s fair to introduce more outdoor games, despite it possibly diluting the product. The one that stands out the most is the game in L.A., which is testing if the NHL can play outdoors in a warmer climate. It introduces more opportunity for the less nationally recognized markets to take advantage of a special event with national recognition and new financial opportunities that they haven’t seen in the past. It also will promote national growth of a game that we know isn’t getting as much attention as, say, the NFL. With special events like this taking place all over the country, it will be a move in the right direction for a bigger, better NHL. Sure, you may think it’s a ploy for national attention, but it’s working, and come New Years, expect the 115,000+ fans who sold out the Winter Classic at the Big House to enjoy it as if it’s the only outdoor game they will ever see.