With three NHL Stadium Series games over the next five days, the National Hockey League’s broad plan to drive ratings, please sponsors and command attention amidst a competitive sports space in the lead-up to the Super Bowl will be appraised in hockey and sports marketing circles.
From the league’s perspective, that “wow factor” has already been reached.
“Everybody thinks it’s a phenomenal experience,” said NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins. “Typically the clubs give it a big thumbs up. The players give it a big thumbs up. Our corporate partners, our rights holders think it’s a big thumbs up. Guys are saying ‘come back’ like they have in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.”
Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia have already held outdoor games, and the Blackhawks will host a game at Soldier Field on March 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins after previously hosting the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.
But what about the nontraditional NHL markets? Speculation, preliminary discussions and maybe a pipe dream or two have arisen over potential games in Phoenix, Dallas and Columbus. Will the Los Angeles Stadium Series game be used to gauge the feasibility of holding future outdoor games in warmer climates and outside of the NHL’s traditional northeast and Midwest footprint?
“I think for us we were pretty confident that we would pull it off for all the people that we have to influence and get the buy-in from,” Collins said. “Maybe this game, to see how well received it is and how it comes off, I think is always important. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t know that we could create an authentic NHL regular season competitive environment.”
As reported by NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, the league will scale back the number of outdoor games next season. The only outdoor game to have been announced is the Winter Classic, which will be hosted by the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park.
“We have ideas,” Collins told Rosen. “There are the markets that everybody points to that we all know would be great. We already announced Washington. Everybody knows Minnesota would be great. Colorado would be great. If this goes well [in Los Angeles], San Jose would be great.”
The seeds that may develop potential future outdoor games have already been planted.
“We’re always trying to get ahead of the game and try to be a year or two years out, which is an ideal planning for us – but we’ve only committed to the one in Washington for next year, although we are looking at other options. Right now, we’re right into this and we’ll keep our focus on making these games as good as they can be. Then shortly after that, we’re into the scheduling process and the scheduling process is usually what reveals what the opportunities are. We have to have our act together for that.”