The recent announcement by the NHL of an additional outdoor game between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks has brought speculation from the national hockey media whether the Stadium Series is creating oversaturation of the outdoor NHL hockey concept.
Some of you will remember that I wrote an article on the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series last season regarding the same question because it was being posed way back in January. These large scale events can be good for the league and for the exposure of hockey to a more mainstream audience.
However, I believe these big events can be done too often and reach a point of oversaturation quickly. It is similar to anything else that is considered a novelty. There is a fine line before you cross into the scenario where the novelty wears off, and then the entire concept is doomed.
The NHL has not announced any additional games of this magnitude besides this game and the annual Winter Classic which will be held in Washington D.C. and feature the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks. In my opinion, they should limit it to these two games and not push the envelope on added outdoor games for the upcoming season.
The Winter Classic
There are some within the mainstream sports media and the sports blogging landscape who demonstrated some frustration over the choice of the matchup for The Winter Classic this season, which will be held on New Year’s Day again, and has become a big ratings booster for NBC on that day competing with college football on the other major networks.
The issue was not with the choice of Washington, I think most of us can agree that our nation’s capital is deserving of finally gaining the opportunity to host this huge hockey event. The issue was with the choice of their opponent. I can understand that sentiment, but I do not fully agree with it.
I read on one site where the writer described the game as having the league “shove the Blackhawks down our throats”, and I can understand people from other markets feeling that they see too much of Chicago already.
Conversely, you have to look at this event from the mainstream sports fan or the casual sports fan’s point of view. The Blackhawks are an “Original Six” franchise playing in a giant media market with a huge fan base. Their participation in this game makes a great deal of sense from the marketing perspective, not to mention, that they are a very good hockey team.
This event is about giving the fans both in attendance at the stadium and watching at home, an exciting and fast paced game, and the Blackhawks and the revamped Capitals should provide that with no issues.
I am not sure what other team some fans or media types would want to see in this game in place of Chicago. The interest level has shown to be higher in the teams from the Northeast, but the following teams have already been in multiple NHL Winter Classic games: Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. The placement of one of those teams in this season’s game is the very definition of oversaturation.
The league could not put the Detroit Red Wings in the game because they played in it last season against the Toronto Maple Leafs, which again leaves them out of the conversation for this year’s event. An argument could be made for a Canadian team such as the Montreal Canadiens or the Ottawa Senators but the league may have been concerned about the impact on the overall ratings with the Senators essentially in rebuilding mode at this point.
The Heritage Classic concept is the best pathway I see to having Canadian teams involved in outdoor games. I do not know why the league did not continue that concept again in 2014-15. I think the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic could be done annually without risk of oversaturating the public with the concept.
In the end it is all inconsequential because we have Chicago in this game, and I think it is going to be a great event and another wonderfully played game on New Year’s Day.
The game that was just announced to take place in late February in the Bay Area between the Kings and the Sharks is an obvious attempt by the league to ride the wave of success from last season’s Stadium Series game between the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks played in Southern California.
That game did very well as far as both selling tickets and generating TV ratings for the league. This game is going to be held in the new stadium for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers which is called Levi’s Stadium.
There are some within league circles who believe that the outdoor games translate better in football stadiums than in stadiums built for baseball because the sight lines are better. This game will showcase two very good hockey teams and a brand new state of the art stadium. The Northern California market is a strong one for hockey, and the weather should be conducive in February in the Bay Area to have good ice conditions for that game as well.
Garden State of Mind
The commentary I read about the conduciveness of the football stadium for the outdoor hockey games caused me to think about my home state of New Jersey and our top notch football facility, MetLife Stadium.
I would think that every few years, not every year, the league could put a game or multiple games like they did last season with the games at Yankee Stadium, in MetLife Stadium featuring our New Jersey Devils against either the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, or the rival Flyers.
I think they could even add a team from outside the Northeast and that game would still do well both in ratings and attendance. I think the venue makes a lot of sense, and I would love to see the Devils in another big outdoor game.
In the end, I think the league has to be careful about scheduling too many of these outdoor games because the exclusivity of playing the game outdoors once or twice a year is the key factor to keeping these events special. The Winter Classic has become an iconic sports event in America, it would be sad if that were to no longer be the case.
(Some background information courtesy of NHL.com, SI.com and NBC Sports.com)