Can any other sport match the novelty of an outdoor hockey game?

Posted: January 27, 2014 in NHL
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This past week, we experienced 2 more outdoor hockey games, including one with a relatively newer twist; 60+ degree weather. There have been some complaints that the NHL is going wild with these outdoor games, and it’s watering down the originality and special feel that the game brings. But from what we’ve seen out of New York and Los Angeles, it seems like each event keeps bringing something more to the table, and keeps filling stadium after stadium. Maybe it’s the novelty of watching an NHL regular season game outdoors, maybe not. But one thing we do know, is that this style of event is unique to the sports world. Is it possible for the other 3 major leagues to match this kind of event? Let’s dive in.

The NFL just had their annual Pro-Bowl at Aloha Stadium, in Honolulu, Hawaii. This year, they added a new wrinkle (originally from the NHL), a fantasy draft instead of AFC/NFC format. The game was neat, and fun to watch with the new rule changes they implemented. But it didn’t bring a regular season/playoff feel to the game, because it was merely an exhibition match. Also, with the dimensions of a football field and stadium, it’s tough to take an NFL anywhere that’s not an NFL regulation size stadium. The games are stuck, and too few to really make a big impact. They do have the International Series, where they visit Canada and England, but every sport does that at one point or another. It’s very hard for the NFL to have a novelty regular season game, and I don’t see them coming up with something new and ingenious anytime soon.

The NBA is the closest league to the NHL, so similar events are always compared from one to the other. In 2010, played the All-Star game in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in an effort to break the attendance record for a pro basketball game. Like the NHL, they looked to a football stadium for something new and cool. It worked, as the game was attended by  108,713 fans. But with the nature of basketball, it’s nearly impossible to host an outdoor game, for a number of reasons. Like the NHL, the games are played indoors exclusively, and the regular season is in the winter months. The differences are what set the NBA apart for potential outdoor games. The NBA would require a warmer climate to host the game, or an indoor stadium, as it’s fairly obvious the players wouldn’t be able to play in colder conditions. That being said, it would knock out anything north of, say Atlanta or Texas. The NHL solved their problem with the inverse, playing in warm and cold temperatures alike. It wouldn’t work for the NBA, and there really isn’t anywhere else for them to try something similar.

Major League Baseball is far and away the last sport to be able to pull off something like the Winter Classic. With 162 regular season games, you would think that a team would instantly give up a home game for something like this. But there’s a massive problem or two with a novelty event in baseball. First, you need an MLB ballpark to play baseball. Football stadiums have not been able to fit an MLB game in with even dimensions (they tried it in the L.A. Coliseum, and the left field foul pole was 200 feet from home plate). Second, with the season broken down into series, it would be tough for 2 teams to meet for 2-4 games in some random location that’s ill suited for baseball, just to try and fill a stadium and make some money. It just couldn’t and wouldn’t work, especially with teams having troubles filling their ballpark on any ordinary night.

The NHL has dug up a gold mine with this concept of bringing the NHL product outdoors. They are capitalizing on it, and milking every penny out of it that they can, and rightfully so. The best part, is that this kind of cash cow is only available to the NHL, and wouldn’t fly in any other sport, because it can’t. If it fills the seats, and brings in revenue that other sports can’t reach, why not keep going to the well?

Sure, there are ideas that people can come up with. I would love for you to prove me wrong. But until then, I will hold by my statement, that novelty games belong to hockey.

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