With news breaking that the 2013-14 schedule may have upwards of four outdoor games, my wheels again began to turn at the thought of the diminishing spectacle that is outdoor hockey.
The lockout prevented the 2013 Winter Classic from occurring but the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet on New Year’s Day 2014 to make up for their missed appointment this past January. In addition, rumors have indicated that the Canucks will play host to the Heritage Classic with additional whispers of a Kings and Ducks showdown at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodger Stadium game is expected to occur on Hockey Day in America and would potentially serve as a doubleheader with another outdoor game played at Yankee Stadium featuring the Rangers. The latter three games have yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that they’re going to be part of the plans for the 2013-14 season.
While I think the Hockey Day in America doubleheader could make for some cool television, I fear that by the time those two games roll around no one will care much for the outdoor product. As it stands now, the Winter Classic makes for a fun game to watch in the elements even though the on-ice product isn’t always up to snuff. Scheduling a pair of games to come after the Winter and Heritage Classic could seriously cheapen what has otherwise become a very cool product.
I wrote this last year about the potential for watering down what these outdoor games mean. I fear that oversaturating the market will change these from unique spectacles to just another blip on the NHL radar.
The Winter Classic has developed into a yearly spectacle that is must-see TV. From its birth in 2008 (really 2001), the game has grown to include numerous ancillary events and games. In fact, the events surrounding the Winter Classic are becoming nearly as exciting as the main event. However, has the genesis of outdoor hockey grown too big?
Beginning with the Cold War and Heritage Classic, outdoor hockey games were a unique take on a classic game. Those original incarnations have helped breed an incredible genesis of games putting the game back to its purest form.
The run of outdoor contests since the original two outings has grown in recent years. It seems as if the idea and glamour surrounding an outdoor game is growing a little too popular. Counting the first Winter Classic in Buffalo and the original Cold War in Lansing, only four major outdoor games were played in North America. Since 2008 there have been 17 major outdoor games. That number doesn’t include alumni, women’s NCAA, major junior or European contests. There is one additional AHL outdoor game scheduled for this season.
Considering that 2011-12 has been the year most populated with outdoor games (eight), it would be safe to assume that the trend is only bound to continue growing. The question that is slowly beginning to loom must be; when will it stop?
There is no doubt that the Winter Classic is a tremendous event that should continue uninterrupted for years to come. In addition, the handful of ancillary games played on the Winter Classic surface (alumni, AHL, NCAA, high school etc.) should remain part of the spectacle. However, there needs to be temperance regarding the ridiculous number of games that are sprouting up across the country.
The Frozen Fenway event was born around the 2010 Winter Classic and has hosted seven separate NCAA men’s and women’s game. This year’s event was a six-game card that included NCAA DI and DIII teams. Considering a pair of AHL outdoor games, the OSU vs. Michigan game in Cleveland and the Winter Classic, 2011-12 has been too chock full of outdoor hockey.
That isn’t to say there is no place for outdoor games. For example, the Winter Classic will never sour as a spectator or television event. For example, next year’s Winter Classic in Ann Arbor promises to be a very special event. However, between the main rink at The Big House and the secondary rink hosting additional events (including the GLI) at Comerica Park, there will be two outdoor venues hosting big events at nearly the same time. Yes, they will be connected by the Classic, but there are sure to be additional outdoor games scheduled for next season. The key for the future will not to make these truly spectacular games anything more than a frivolous event because they are so common. The fact that an outdoor hockey game is so unique is a big part of the draw. When there are games being played every other month, the mystique wears quite a bit.
Perhaps the best example was last year’s Big Chill at The Big House. The game itself was a blowout, and the event was somewhat forgotten because there were other outdoor games surrounding it. Despite the fact that over 100,000 people were in attendance, not many others seemed to care about it. Maybe comparing tat game to the original UM vs. MSU showdown in Lansing isn’t fair. But the fact of the matter is that the 2001 contest generated buzz on numerous levels, not just a few.
Scaling back the number of major outdoor hockey events in North America would not only lessen the over-saturation these game currently have on the market, it would also make the remaining events far more special.