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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Taking It Outdoors: NHL Hosting Outdoor Series 2014 by @highheelshockey

There is nothing quite like the smell of crisp, cold winter air after a fresh snow. A gleaming sheet of ice with a backdrop of whispy snow flurries, the sound of steel scraping the slick surface and the distinct and sharp crack of a stick as it releases a puck from its grip is the only thing more perfect to drop into such an environment.

The Winter Classic has evolved into a greatly anticipated and celebrated festival of hockey since its inaugural game in Buffalo in 2008. With the help of HBO’s series 24/7 granting fans unparalleled access to the lives of their favorite teams and players leading up to the outdoor game, the Winter Classic is something special. While it is worth 2 points like any other night of the week, taking the game back to its roots outside, exposed to the elements takes a great game and makes it extraordinary.

The NHL has proposed an outdoor series following the Winter Classic for 2014. The “stadium series” will consist of 5 games and span the continental US. The Winter Classic will pick up where it left off on New Year’s Day, allowing the Red Wings and Maple Leafs to play their cancelled game from this year at the Big House in Ann Arbor. After, the following games have been proposed:

• Ducks vs. Kings at Dodger Stadium, Jan. 25

• Devils vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Jan. 26

• Islanders vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Jan 29

• Penguins at Blackhawks, Soldier Field, March 1

• Senators at Canucks, BC Place, March 2 

There are many positives and negatives that can be derived from this plan from the fan perspective.

The biggest upside to holding so many outdoor games is that it provides an opportunity for more teams and cities to participate. Instead of having to potentially wait years for a Winter Classic to visit your city, you will get more immediate gratification. This is something new and exciting and the NHL has a great opportunity to draw in new fans. If they market this and execute in the right manner, not only will they create excitement, but these games can spur festival like atmospheres all across North America for these games, with each city planning additional events around the outdoor game.

The Winter Classic in Pittsburgh showcased amateur talent, as more local teams were able to play outdoor games in the week leading up the Winter Classic. Youth teams were granted the chance to play outdoors, and the tradition has continued with The Pens Pond, now being open in the winter months at Highmark Stadium in Station Square. Other cities may be prompted to do the same, which can only benefit local youth and junior teams.

The greatest part of having so many outdoor games next year is that it will fuel more rivalries. Anaheim versus Los Angeles in an outdoor game? Marketers dream. We all know why the NHL is doing this: to make money lost on this season’s lockout. We all know that. The people who believe the NHL is dumb for doing this need to understand and appreciate that even though hockey is a sport, it is still a business and businesses need money to thrive. They took a hit. They want it back and as good businessmen, they should do anything they can to get it back. A series of outdoor games that they can guarantee will sell out in both ticket sales and merchandise is the way to go. Pack those ballparks until they are overflowing and don’t look back!

This also opens to door to stimulate the economies of many cities. On the flip side though, if you look at the cities that the outdoor games would be hosted in next winter, they are all huge tourist destinations already or close in proximity to their opponent--only a few hours drive at most. Really, at this point only the games in Chicago and Vancouver would involve a meaningful amount of travel that would require the use of hotels and local eateries. This leads us into the cons.

Is this overload? To some it may be, but to many, we will eat this up no matter what. Watching players skate on sludgy ice because weather conditions don’t jive with the elements necessary to sustain a pond game is as fun as it gets.

But some will be turned away on “principle” and to “stick it to the man (Bettman).” Also understandable as he is a loathsome and deplorable human at times.

Others may be turned off by having so many outdoor games, or just be salty that their team wasn’t chosen. The Rangers and Pens will each be heading into their third outdoor games with this series.

I seriously cannot think of any other cons, because I am giddy over watching all of these outdoor games AND watching the Olympics within a short time frame. Hockey fan overload and I’m more than okay with that!

Whatever your take on the outdoor game series, it looks like they are at green light go status. Watch them. Not watch them. It’s a decision each fan must make for his/herself. I’m just waiting for the day I get to sit online and hope that I am able to get tickets to the game in Chicago!

Let’s Go Pens!

Follow me on Twitter @highheelshockey
Email me: heelsandhockey@gmail.com

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