Let’s face it, profits aside, the current outdoor game strategy…sucks. There are 6 NHL outdoor games this year, and I don’t know when a single one of them aside from the Winter Classic is happening. If not for a Rangers fan in my office, there is no way I’d know about tonight’s outdoor game in New York.
The problem isn’t that it’s worn out, it’s that this specific idea is poorly executed. Don’t half ass this outdoor series. Either do one (or two if you want an all-Canadian game) per year and make it special, or go all out and make it something the hardcore fans will enjoy and the casual fan will remember.
Let’s face it, there’s no way the owners are going back to one game a year anytime soon, so with that in mind, here is how I would fix the Stadium Series by going full measure:
- I’d be far more interested in the outdoor games if I knew “Hey, on Feb 15th the Flyers have their game!” Instead of having 6 games a year for an exclusive club of big revenue markets, hold 15 outdoor games a year and give every team a spot at the table. Sure some matchups might be duds (Florida/Tampa!) but it would give struggling teams something to sell to their team every year.
- If you’re going to hold 16 of these games (or even 6) don’t just cram the games into two months: spread them out over the year. Give the people up north the opportunity to experience a hockey game outdoors in warm weather like a baseball game in October, then the next time put it in the January. There’s no reason to make Edmonton play Calgary in -30F when their game could be in comparably warm temperatures (10s or 20s) during November.
- Instead of just a cheesy rivalry night pitting teams that aren’t even rivals make every Wednesday night for 15 straight weeks an outdoor game. Use these games to highlight actual division rivals, pitting last year’s playoff opponents against one another when possible.
- Finally, make the Winter Classic a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Final where winner gets home ice for the game (when possible) so that the big game feels like an honor, not something given to whichever market will pad the coffers. (For example, this year’s WC would be Boston @ Chicago on New Year’s Day). The fans will come anyway..we’ve proven that through three lockouts in 20 years. Put hockey in my city, and I’ll pay a premium to go see it. Put it on TV and it’s the only reason I don’t cancel cable.
This fix gives every city should get one of these games every other year and maintains the importance of the Winter Classic. Right now the novelty of the Winter Classic has become a cash grab that feels stale.
In short, NHL, if you are going to saturate the market, then accept that the novelty factor needs to become a tradition in order to survive.