The NHL is reportedly planning to hold six outdoor games next year, beginning with the Winter Classic on January 1st in Michigan Stadium. The information, as seen on TSN, details that there are tentatively five other outdoor games scheduled following the Winter Classic, with games being played in Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Soldier Field and BC Place.
The tentative schedule, seen above, confirms that the NHL is extremely interested in expanding their highly successful outdoor formula.
This schedule, one that's subject to change, is as follows. Don't pay too much attention to the dates. Those are much more likely to change than the teams involved or the venue.
TOR vs. DET – Michigan Stadium (January 1)
ANA vs. LA – Dodger Stadium (January 25)
NJ vs. NYR – Yankee Stadium (January 26)
NYI vs. NYR – Yankee Stadium (January 29)
PIT vs. CHI – Soldier Field (March 1)
OTT vs. VAN – BC Place (March 2)
The NHL will make a fortune if they are able to pull this plan off. Fans will flock to these games, eager to take in an outdoor game. There's just one major problem – the NHL is killing what made the Winter Classic and the general idea of an outdoor game so special.
Why is the Winter Classic such a special event? Simple. It's rare. It's not a common occurrence to see a professional hockey game played out in the elements. The casual fan, and even the non-fan, are attracted to the Winter Classic because it's something so different. By adding more outdoor games, or five based on this report, you turn a rare, special event into a much more common one. The Winter Classic will soon be no more special than any of the other five outdoor games on the schedule. After a year or two, an outdoor game won't be special at all as we become more accustomed to seeing them. It's highly likely the interest, attention and money you gain from the casual and non-fan will dry up as the novelty wears off.
Personally, I'm not opposed to adding an outdoor game or two to the schedule. Five more games, bringing the total to six? That's foolish. The New York Rangers will appear in two outdoor games in the same season and their third since 2012. In fact, the Rangers will play in two outdoor games within a three-day period in 2013-14 based on the tentative schedule. The Penguins will appear in their third outdoor game since 2008. Talk about overkill.
It's great to see the NHL pushing to host an outdoor game on the West Coast and involving new teams (ANH, LA, NYI, VAN, OTT). However, the correct approach would have been to gradually expand the outdoor concept and avoid trying to ruin the nearly perfect original concept. Start with two outdoor games a year (We're not even discussing the Heritage Classic in this) and avoid using the same teams in back-to-back years. For instance, in 2014 you could run the scheduled Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto and then hold a second outdoor game out in Dodger Stadium for Anaheim and Los Angeles. Slow growth that keeps the original, unique concept mostly intact while allowing new fans and teams to enjoy the experience.
Leave it to the NHL to ruin a good thing.
What's behind this decision? Money. The NHL will claim it wants to bring the experience to all of their fans, but that's just not factual. The experience as we currently know it will end as soon as the NHL makes an outdoor game a common occurrence.
Photo courtesy of Lawrence Dushenski.