When the NHL announced they were going to supplement the Winter Classic with five more outdoor games known as the Stadium Series, many took issue with the NHL diluting what was a pretty cool thing. It seemed a petty cash grab, an attempt to get even more money from fans via ticket sales, cool new merchandise, and rich TV deals.
That’s pretty much all true. However, while the Stadium Series will steal some of the Winter Classic’s thunder, the revenue generating sibling games solve a pressing issue unique to the Canadian/U.S. dynamic found only in the NHL.
Simply put, the NHL was in a tough spot. When it had only one outdoor game there was pressure to make it as highly watched as possible. There’s a reason the Penguins, the Flyers, and come this January, the Red Wings will have played in two Winter Classics, while many teams have yet to participate in one. NBC wants teams that generate national interest among Americans, which not only eliminates smaller U.S. markets from contention (although oddly enough, Buffalo hosted the original Winter Classic), but also virtually denies any non centre-of-the-universe Canadian franchise a chance as well.
For Canadian teams, this led to the rebirth of the Heritage Classic, which was a huge success back in 2003. The problem with the Heritage Classic is that there are only seven Canadian teams meaning there are only so many matchups available (21, if my grade 12 data skills are to be trusted), while American markets sit and wait for their turn at the Winter Classic. The novelty would surely wear off, and having the Heritage Classic once every five or so years would just be odd.
Putting an American team in the Heritage Classic could work, but you’d just be upsetting a Canadian fan base that already feels slighted by a league where teams that play in empty rinks could sell out if they were moved up north. Canadians know that a disproportionate amount of revenue comes from their teams, but many fail to realize how important NBC money is to the future of the league.
So the NHL has created the Stadium Series, a way to have their Super Bowl style Winter Classic, which is only available to markets that reach a certain criteria, while keeping the fans in smaller markets happy and included in the whole outdoors novelty. HBO 24/7 will still get to be awesome, and with the new NHL Revealed, fans will get a chance to watch more of that all-access footage narrated by a deep voice that makes for great entertainment and league exposure.
For fans, the greater supply of outdoor games gives them more of an opportunity to see one. No one is being forced to buy a ticket, a jersey, or watch the games, but they might appeal to some and that’s not a bad thing. The NHL doesn’t have to worry about losing a significant audience by having a game in the Pacific Time Zone, and more games spread out gives more opportunities to attract new fans who might not have made the trip all the way to the Northeast.
Let’s also not forget that the Stadium Series has allowed the NHL to show off its fancy new chrome logos. I’ve always said that if there’s one thing NHL logos need, it’s more chrome. We weren’t ready for it back in 2002 (sorry Flyers), but the technology now exists to do it right. And do it right they did.
It is possible that people will get sick of outdoor games, or that fans will stop paying to sit in the cold with a limited view of the action. But that might have happened without the five extra games. Now, instead of having a Canadian outdoor game once every five years, the Canadian teams can still partake in a proportionate amount with one a year. Now teams that aren’t apart of the NBC Seven (i.e. Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Penguins and Capitals) can join in on the frosty fun. Or balmy fun if a southern team hosts. And then there’s still all that money. Lots and lots of money. Bring on the Stadium Series, it can’t possibly be the worst thing the NHL has ever done.
Thanks for reading. Please give our Hockey Department a follow on Twitter – @lastwordBKerr, @RickW10, @TheHockeyMitch, @LastWordBigMick, @crimsonskorpion, @CMS_74_, @TwoTurtleDuffs, @d_rocchi, @dasimonetta, @ddmatthews, @CanuckPuckHead, @NKonarowski2, @LarryScotti, @PurpleRocktober, @jaynichols11, @meaghannn_, @LastWordOnNHL, @LWOSDanRussell, and @darrinharmy and follow the site @lastwordonsport and like our Facebook Page.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.