In case you were, for some crazy reason, not watching the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, the NHL announced its slate of outdoor games for the 2019-20 season. For the second time in franchise history, the Winnipeg Jets will be one of the teams heading outside as they will clash with the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Heritage Classic on Oct. 26.
BREAKING: The @NHL has announced the 2019 @TimHortons NHL #HeritageClassic, where the #NHLJets will host the @NHLFlames at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 26, 2019! pic.twitter.com/5mQ4pOB8y6
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) January 1, 2019
However, there’s a twist: it won’t be played in the ‘Peg or Cowtown. Instead, the teams will face off at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, the 33,000-seat home of the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Outdoor games always generate plenty of hype and storylines, and certainly have impacts on both teams involved and the host city. Let’s take a look at some of the storylines created by the announcement of the neutral-site game.
It’s no secret outdoor games are cash cows. Between tickets (prices for the 2016 Heritage Classic game between the Jets and the Edmonton Oilers ranged from $185 to $669), merchandise that runs the gamut from jerseys and jackets to pennants and programs, 50/50 and concessions, a fan could easily drop $1,000 or more on game day alone. Multiply that by 33,000 and you’re looking at a lot of loot. However, that’s just one part of the revenue and economic opportunities generated by these grand games.
— NHL (@NHL) October 23, 2016
Thousands of Jets and Flames fans will undoubtedly make their way to Regina to catch the action live. That means they’ll check into hotels, eat at restaurants and inject money into the host city for an entire weekend. When Winnipeg hosted in 2016, Economic Development Winnipeg expected the economic spin-off created by the influx of guests to be nearly $6 million.
Outdoor games are a great way for cities to showcase themselves. Winnipeg and Regina are not New York or Las Vegas, make no mistake, but if visitors go to a new town and like the place, they may be inclined to go back again in the future.
The big winner from the get-go is the city of Regina, simply by acting as host. The city of Winnipeg, conversely, will not see any of the economic benefit they did in 2016, even though they are the “home” team. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will not be able to collect a handsome fee for hosting the game at Investors Group Field. Instead, the Blue Bombers’ bitter prairie rival will be collecting the dough.
That, combined with the fact the Jets will act as the “home” team but will lose an actual home date for the second-straight season and third time in four, might rankle season ticket holders, The Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman suggested on Twitter. Judging by reaction to the news on Facebook, that certainly seems to be the case.
Never accuse hockey fans of not being fashion-forward. Whenever a special game comes around, conversations about the duds their team will don abound almost immediately.
The sensational Heritage Classic jerseys the Jets wore in 2016, a near-perfect uniform that gave the 1973 WHA retro jersey a modern revamp and updated colour palette, was well-received and flew off the shelves and is infinitely nicer than the boring Aviator alternate the Jets introduced this season.
The Heritage Classic Jersey was designed by Reebok but reissued by Adidas this season. The Jets wore them on New Year’s Eve against the Edmonton Oilers and will also wear them on Feb. 26.
While the Jets could easily please most simply by wearing it again, they have the opportunity to design a new jersey that pays homage to another part of their history. Many, such as fan site Jets Nation, have suggested they wear blue rather than white to fit with the modern convention of home teams wearing dark.
A design based on the jersey the Jets wore between 1990 and relocation, which THW’s own Peter Ferrell described as “visually stunning” and “simply spectacular,” is one option that would be a big departure from 2016’s threads but likely still resonate with Jets fans.
Related: Winnipeg Jets Jersey History
Another option is to keep the same design as the 2016 jersey but invert the colours. The Jets Centric Podcast came up with a pretty good-looking design last month.
The Flames, on the other hand, haven’t played in a Heritage Classic since 2011. Back then, they wore a maroon and yellow jersey with white pants, but expect them to come up with something fresh and new for 2019. One option for the Flames, if the Jets were to wear a blue ’90s-inspired jersey, would be to don a white jersey from the same era, such as the jersey they wore between 1994-2003.
The novel and attractive jersey, which features bold, angular sleeve stripes, diagonal lines jutting toward the logo and italicized font, would look outstanding in an outdoor game.
Related: Calgary Flames Jersey History
A white Flames jersey and a blue Jets jersey would bring back memories of the great players who wore them, such as Theoren Fleury and Teemu Selanne. That’s what Heritage Classic games are all about, after all: bringing back fond memories of the past while celebrating the present.
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding these spectacles, it’s easy to forget that teams still have to play 81 other equally important games. A special game can certainly mess with a team’s schedule. The Jets have experienced that this season as they had a week’s break after a pair of NHL Global Series games in Finland and had to play nine games in 16 days last month to make up the slack.
However, as exhausting as that recent stretch was, the Jets had it much worse three years ago in the wake of the 2016 outdoor game: they played just four games before the Oct. 23 Heritage Classic. By comparison, they played 10 games before that date this season. After that, the NHL schedule-makers ran the team ragged, forcing them to play 28 games in 49 days and six back-to-backs.
“Last time, they had a big build-up of three or four days and pushed a bunch of games around it out,” explained Paul Maurice to Jeff Hamilton. “And then, really what happened to us was the most egregious schedule in the National Hockey League… We went 28-in-49, and it, well, killed us that year; we had 135 man-games lost and we were three games under .500 by the time we got out in mid-December.
The NHL needs to do a better job of ensuring hype-building doesn’t come at the expense of either team’s chances at success. That could mean, rather than piling on games after the big event, giving both teams slightly heavier schedules beforehand to make up for their lack of games in the three or four days leading up it.
All Aboard the Hype Train
The train’s just leaving the station, but there’s still plenty of time to hop on: there’s nearly 10 months to go until the puck drops at Mosaic Stadium. If you’re not excited already, one thing is for sure: the Jets are.
“I especially like that it’s in Canada and it’s in a market that doesn’t get the NHL to be played there,” Paul Maurice said. “They will be an enthusiastic crowd so we’ll all be looking forward to it.”
“It’s just a special day,” Josh Morrissey, a 2016 Heritage Classic participant, said. “It’s something that as players you’re excited for. You just enjoy it more than worrying about the logistics side.”
Another thing is for certain: the anticipation will only build from here as the date grows closer, tickets go on sale and other festivities, including a possible alumni game, are announced. The game will be even more ballyhooed if the Jets and Flames — both strong teams at the top of their respective divisions — make some noise in this spring’s playoffs.
The 2019 Heritage Classic will undoubtedly be a great event, well-attended by folks from Regina, both team’s markets and all over Canada. As someone who was fortunate enough to be in attendance when the Jets faced the Oilers on a crisp, sunny fall afternoon in 2016, I can attest that an outdoor game is a one-of-a-kind experience that should be on every hockey fan’s bucket list. The only thing that would have made the day better would be the Jets getting a goal, but that’s a storyline for another day.