Monday, December 2, 2013

NHL Winter Classic: Not So Classic

The NHL has introduced a new 'Stadium Series' this season. This will involve the addition of four outdoor games held in stadiums (football or baseball venues). In 2008, the NHL introduced the Winter Classic. The Winter Classic consisted of a single game to be held every year (on or just after New Years' Day) at an outdoor venue. The purpose of adding a regular schedule of outdoor hockey games to the NHL schedule was to promote the sport while also bringing the players back to their childhood roots of outdoor hockey. However, I think the league has gone too far with the new Stadium Series.
The NHL Winter Classic was meant to be something special. It was the game every hockey fan waited for, and it came right at the end of the holiday season. That remains in place. This season, the Toronto Maple Leafs will take on the Detroit Red Wings in the Winter Classic. However, there are also other games scheduled to take place outside. The Stadium Series will see four games, while the Canadian-exclusive Heritage Classic will also have a game on the schedule. The Heritage classic has only been played twice before. Not only that, but it is exclusive to Canadian teams, thus a treat for Canadian NHL fans. Essentially, the Heritage Classic is the Canadian equivalent of the Winter Classic. But the addition to of the NHL stadium series makes all outdoor games seem less "classic" and more regular.

I think the NHL has seen the outdoor games as money-makers for them. Every Winter Classic game has seen an audience of 35,000 or more. To put that in perspective, the average capacity of an NHL arena is around 17,000 (the Tampa Bay Times Forum capacity is 19,501). So there is obviously a lot of money to be had in these stadiums that can fit over 40,000 people. But fans I think will soon catch on. The hype of all of these outdoor games will soon dissappear. TV ratings will fall, attendance will drop, and the so-called special nature of these games will be gone. No NHL fan wants to see that happens, but it seems as though the league is pushing the situation in that direction.

IMAGE from Winter Classic 2014 logo (left) Heritage Classic 2014 logo (right) and the Stadium Series logo (bottom).

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