The rumors have been swirling and the TSN team has been making neat graphics, about the planned Outdoor NHL games to be played on next years schedule. Earlier today SenShot Mastermind Jared Crozier kicked us off in our Point/Counterpoint arguing in favor of the Outdoor games. It was a great piece, and he almost had me convinced, which was going to make writing this extremely difficult. Luckily, I’m nothing if not stubborn.
So let’s get down to brass tacks shall we?
Everyone loves the Outdoor Games the NHL has been dabbling in the last few years. Saying otherwise is blasphemy towards the already fickle Hockey Gods. That said, with the recent announcement of an upcoming 6 outdoor games scheduled for the 2013-2014 season a couple sayings come to mind. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” And “Ever hear of too much of a good thing?”
Now it’s easy to make the argument that these outdoor games are a revenue boon to the league and that’s that. So while I love the idea of finally seeing the Senators with a visiting team Heritage Jersey, I’m still not entirely sold on the notion.
First off, why 6? Understandably the surefire sell out of Detroit vs. Toronto gets cancelled due to the lockout and already leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Turning that around and saying “But wait! This year there will be six!” seems like the league is trying to brush the lockout under the rug and appease many big market fans as possible, as quickly as they can.
Unfortunately it’s not that easy, Hockey fans proved they were more than willing to flock back to the game they love en masse. They don’t need to have the League pat them on the head and use this as an apology tool. Doing so dampens the spirit of the Outdoor Games, knowing your team only got a game this year as an appeasement package doesn’t exactly stir a frenzy of excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to be all over the game, but as a whole, it feels like going back to the well too often. The sentiment is good, but when you present the option of 6 games for my viewing pleasure, I’m not going to watch all of them. In the past I have, but coming up, I’ll probably only take in the Sens game. Why? Because it’s overkill. It’s great on the ground revenue, which is what they want, in part, but a significant portion of the pie is a media market play, and when you overload the system, it stops being effective.
Audience capture isn’t about giving as many people what they want right away, its about drawing it out and creating a longevity cycle of excitement.
Secondly, why Vancouver? In what possible world does this make sense? Is this to see who has better Engineering firms? The recent Calgary/Montreal game made sense to me. I live in Calgary, I’ve been to Calgary vs. Montreal games in the Dome, this city is flooded with Canadiens fans. Especially when you consider a lot of the population of Calgary is Easterners it starts to make some sense. Does Vancouver have that same pull? Is there an expectation that it does simply because it’s another Canadian market? Or is it just because the Stadium is big enough?
Why not a team that mattered (y’know, with regards to Ottawa, not saying Vancouver doesn’t matter. Shh, it’s okay Vancouver, we can still be friends, this is no time for tears)? Ottawa presents a lot of great possible matchups that seemed to get overlooked. An Ottawa vs. Washington matchup has all the making of a newspaper headlines bonanza, and the Caps are just as hurting for an outdoor game as we are. Opportunity missed. The Battle of Ontario? The Rangers are already playing 2 outdoor games to appease the large media markets, why not give Toronto 2 as well? Hell why not declare Gatineau an actual battle ground and settle it once and for all between Ottawa and Montreal?
Another cause for concern in my eyes is this notion of competition with the NFL. Super Bowl Weekend is a very real and dominant thing. It’s not just Sunday, it is a media storm all week, especially on the weekend. Why is the NHL taking the risk of game placement at that time? That’s almost the same thing as saying “Let’s host an Outdoor game during the Final Round of the Masters. Or Game Seven of the World Series.” I understand a lot of attention will be in the New York/New Jersey area but fighting for media attention with the Super Bowl just doesn’t seem like a well thought out idea.
I love the notion of outdoor games, truly I do, but this announcement reeks of two things: A desperate move to keep fans, and a “surefire” way to recoup their losses from the lockout. Breaking it down so that it’s 2 a year, one for each conference keeps the Outdoor games unique and special. 6 feels extreme, and as a fan it feels like the League is more interested in making up for lost dollars immediately and risking the longevity of the outdoor games, versus keeping demand for the games high. Making the most of your marketing opportunities is good. Cannibalizing your market opportunities is just like regular cannibalism, not so good.