Move over Ann Arbor, you're not the only town in North America that's having an outdoor game this season.
It's not two, not three, not four, but six outdoor games that will be played within a period between New Years Day thru March 2. The other five games will be played at Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Soldier Field and B.C. Place in Vancouver.
Adding more outdoor games will have it's positive impacts. I understand this. The local economies will enjoy the boost, especially New York, who will host two of the outdoor games and then the Super Bowl will be played at MetLife Stadium a few weeks later. Some of the teams playing in these games have already played in a Winter Classic game. The exposure should be a positive for the league. Hopefully NBC is smart to put these games on their main network, and not on the NBC Sports Network, where it will be lost in the mix of cable television. One of these games will be played on a Wednesday, so we'll see.
Now, I might be in the minority with this idea, but doesn't it seem like the NHL is pushing the outdoor game idea a little too much with this?
Since 2008, the idea of an annual outdoor regular season game was a gamble when Buffalo hosted Pittsburgh at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a cold, snowy game in front of a sellout crowd. The setting that everyone was hoping for. It even had a great ending, with Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winning shootout goal against Ryan Miller as the snow fell. Despite a few ice problems, the game received positive reception.
Every summer since, big hockey cities across the country hope to hear that their city will be the one to host the event. A sport with a regional following, big hockey cities like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia have hosted the game. In ballparks and football stadium. In cold, snowy weather and mild, rainy conditions, the games ratings have gone up every year.
HBO's "24/7" series has followed the teams for a month leading up to the big event since the 2011 game. The series has offered positive and sometimes negative exposure for players and coaches on the different teams. Either way, the audience for hockey gets a little bigger.
The 2014 Winter Classic, which will be held at Michigan Stadium with Detroit taking on Toronto, will be the highlight game of the season and of the outdoor games, but if the NHL were to continue to play multiple outdoor games in 2015 and beyond, will it kill the excitement for what would have been the annual outdoor game on New Years Day?
They say that too much of a good thing could be a bad thing. While many will love the idea that more than two teams will get to play outside, especially playing a game at Dodger Stadium (maybe they can persuade to let Vin Scully do play-by-play), the annual event that is the Winter Classic might not mean the same to hockey fans and non traditional fans. Will HBO scrap the "24/7" documentary or will they make an extended series covering all these games?
Like back in the fall of 2007, the NHL is taking another chance at a big event. This time, they will put on six outdoor games, and not the one on New Years Day that they always hope will go off without any problems. All the games should sell out, and there will be a lot of buzz around them, especially since New York will make it a week long event.
Of course, they'll be under six times as much pressure to make it all work. Days leading up to the game in Los Angeles should be interesting. The ability to keep the ice conditions decent might be challenged if it rains on game day with temperatures in the sixties and maybe near seventy. Even the weather in Chicago in March is unpredictable.
I enjoy outdoor hockey games. I attended the Penguins-Capitals Winter Classic at Heinz Field back in 2011. My view was not that great, it rained for half the game and Crosby took a hit that would eventually sideline him for almost a year. Regardless, it was a great experience. Anyone who has been to an outdoor game will tell you that. I would have killed to have seen the games in person at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. I've seen baseball games at these places, so I know I would love to see a hockey game there too.
Other than the lockout cancelling the 2013 game, the ability for the NHL to keep the Winter Classic going as an annual event has been an accomplishment.
The Heritage Classic game, first held in 2003 between the Oilers and Canadiens was the first modern day, regular season outdoor game. It did not become a yearly tradition in Canada and did not happen again until 2011 when Montreal played the Flames in Calgary in, like it is in Canada in February, bone-chilling cold, which is also rough on the ice conditions.
The inability to keep the Heritage Classic going as an annual event was disappointing. It would be disappointing to see the young tradition of the Winter Classic come to an end because the NHL scheduled too many outdoor games.