POINT: The NHL Needs To Ride The Wave Of Outdoor Games


With the expected announcement that the NHL is going to play 6 outdoor games next year, opinions are split on whether this is a good idea or not.  While some think that that is too many games and will reduces the overall impact, others would argue that it can only serve to increase exposure of the sport.

Senshot will argue both sides of the coin today, with a new series called Point/Counterpoint, where I will argue one side and later today Jamie Clark will argue the other.

I am of the opinion that adding more outdoor games can only be a good idea.  While I am not sure 6 is the magic number, it can’t be a bad thing, and the NHL’s reasoning behind the move is actually not terrible on this one.

In addition to the NHL’s flagship event – the Winter Classic –  between Detroit and Toronto on January 1st, there are plans for two outdoor games at Yankee Stadium during Super Bowl week.  The New York Rangers will host their rival New York Islanders and then New Jersey Devils during the same time that the eyes of the sporting world will be on New York/New Jersey as the Super Bowl will be held at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey.

Jan 2, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Rangers center Brian Boyle (22) chases after the puck with Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon (43) during the second period of the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh will reportedly face Chicago, while Ottawa is set to face the Canucks in the return of the Heritage Classic at the renovated BC Place stadium in Vancouver.  Both of these games will be held post-Olympics in order to drum up exposure when the league resumes play.

Perhaps the most interesting game will be the one at Dodger Stadium in LA, where the Kings will host the Ducks.  If this game can go off with decent ice conditions  in warm weather, it opens the door to other sunshine cities to be able to stage open air games as well, and increase exposure and bring the game to a newer fan base.

I know the tradition of the Winter Classic is meant to return the game to its roots, and the classic snow falling in Buffalo as Crosby scores the shootout winner can not always be replicated.  However, the outdoor game is a great marketing strategy that will increase exposure around the league.  Just think about it.  The game has been the focal point of past seasons, and while having multiple games might distract from the big one a little bit, more games means more people will be reached.

Do fans of the Kings or Ducks really care about an outdoor game 3000 miles away between Pittsburgh and Washington?  Some might, but I am willing to bet a majority do not have more than a passing interest.  However, if their own team was playing in one, then the interest peaks greatly.

If the NHL staged only one per year, it could easily be 20 years or longer before some teams get to participate in an outdoor game, if at all.  I know the math, that 30 teams with two a year means 15 years, but that is only if each team plays once in a cycle.  This will be Pittsburgh’s 3rd kick at the outdoor can, and with good reason – they are a prime draw.  This way the NHL can continue to use marquee matchups in the primary game, but also spread the wealth to some of the outlying markets.  Even if they were to stage 4 per year, then each team should be in an outdoor game every 5 or 6 years or so, with marquee teams like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Toronto etc. a little more often.

And while the original thought was to bring the game back to its roots with the outdoor ice, its time to try to grow new roots in new markets.  Imagine Kevin Dineen behind the Panthers bench in a flowered Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses in Miami while the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos cruises the ice with eye-black under his eyes to cut down on the glare of the Florida sun, all while playing a hockey game.

There is a precedent for hot-weather outdoor games, as the Kings and Rangers played an exhibition game in Las Vegas prior to the 2001-02 season.  It was hot and the ice held up well, and technology has no doubt increased in the 12 years since then.

Gimmicks sell, and they are just the thing that might generate some additional interest in cities like Phoenix, Miami and Tampa.  Its worth a try, and at the very least it is a draw and should increase revenues for the teams and the league as a whole. It would be a draw, and if a team gets some permanent fans out of it, all the better for their long-term potential.

Sure, the NHL runs the risk of losing its lustre and watering down the product, but in terms of the revenue it would generate it is a no-brainer.  It is a risk worth taking, because they can always scale it back if it doesn’t have the desired impact after a majority of the teams have the opportunity to host one if they want.  Yes, they might be gimmicky in some people’s eyes, but there is no arguing the marketing effect that Winter/Heritage Classics have provided for the NHL, not to mention the revenues generated by them.

You can now read Jamie’s Counterpoint HERE.