With the expansion of the outdoor game from one game to six, hockey fans may think that thriving hockey markets would get their first crack at the blockbuster event.
Those fans would think incorrectly.
TSN hockey analyst Darren Dreger revealed Tuesday night that the NHL has opted to hold five additional outdoor games in 2014. The following games are slated to make up the new NHL set of outdoor games, appropriately titled the “NHL Stadium Series.”
- January 1: Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings at Michigan Stadium (Winter Classic)
- January 25: Ducks vs. Kings at Dodger Stadium
- January 26: Devils vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium
- January 29: Islanders vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium
- March 1: Penguins at Blackhawks at Soldier Field
- March 2: Senators at Canucks at BC Place
Let’s leave the questioning of originality to TheHockeyWriters Carolina Hurricanes Correspondent Katie Flynn, shall we? Instead, I would rather focus on the teams selected to participate in next year’s showcase… rather, the teams not selected to participate.
Breaking down the seven American teams chosen to play in the Stadium Series, only four have not had the pleasure of participating in the league’s marquee event known as the Winter Classic. Looking at outdoor games in general, just three teams have not played outside the comfort of an NHL arena (the Kings played the New York Rangers outdoors in Las Vegas during the pre-season in September 1991).
In fact, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be playing in their third outdoor game since the inaugural Winter Classic, which was played between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008. The New York Rangers will be playing in their second and third outdoor games, as they play within four days of each other at Yankee Stadium.
This comes when 12 of 23 American NHL teams are yet to play in an outdoor event (52.2%).
It is easy to see why teams such as the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets are not included in the event. Teams that are in the bottom half of the league in attendance, as well as low in the standings, should be forced to wait to see such a prolific event; after all, the reason that the Winter Classic was ever introduced was to increase television ratings and bring in numerous sponsorships. The league wants to display top talent with a strong fan-following (although that can be argued with the inclusion of the Islanders, who were in last place halfway through the season with a measly 13,306 average attendance).
Wild and Blues Miss Out
The league left out some top-attended teams in next year’s events. The Minnesota Wild, who happen to play in the state of hockey, were ranked 11th in NHL attendance at the midpoint of this season, as an average of 18,767 fans attend Wild home games.
With the additions of NHL superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer, the Wild have had their fair share of television viewership. Fox Sports North’s broadcast of the Wild’s season opener against the Colorado Avalanche on January 19 posted a 7.7 household rating in the Minneapolis – St. Paul market, demolishing the old regular season record of 4.7 that was set on December 13, 2011.
The Wild have also held their own in nationally televised games on NBC Sports. In their matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks on January 31, Minnesota received a 4.8 rating, which was the highest rating in Wild history on the network. The game itself ranked third all-time in network history as 827,000 people saw the game.
The St. Louis Blues, who ranked 14th in the league with 18,027 average attendance at the midway point of this season, also posted record numbers for their season opener. In the St. Louis market, the Blues received a 6.0 rating for their January 19 opener against the Detroit Red Wings. The Blues’ second game of the season, on the road in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Nashville Predators, did even better. The game received a 7.4 rating, making it the highest rated regular season game in Blues history. The ratings topped at 9.1 during the shootout, meaning that approximately 113,000 households were tuned in for the end of the game.
To put these numbers in perspective, the New York Rangers received a 4.3 rating during the last Winter Classic, held at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia between the Flyers and Rangers. The New York area is, obviously, quite the larger market, but that is still a very low rating for what was the most hyped game of the season for the Rangers.
Needless to say, outdoor games may need new venues and opponents to regain some interest.
The overall gimmick of six outdoor games has its challenges, especially considering the league is expanding the Winter Classic concept after a record-low 2.4 national rating in 2012. But when teams are being rehashed, notably within the same season, it boasts poorly for fans outside of those markets.
When looking at the numbers, the NHL may want to reconsider their scheduling strategies for future outdoor games.