NHL Outdoors Was Great, Don’t Expect It Again for a Bit

The Lake Tahoe games happened. Aside from the sun being the mortal enemy of ice on Saturday– you’d have to say it was ultimately a success. The sights, the sounds, the kayaks– all of it was solid for the viewing public. That was ultimately ruined by Rutledge Wood, but we take what we can get with NBC’s budget on hockey for sideline reporters. It was super enjoyable, especially in a year we didn’t think an outdoor game would happen.

Odds are we won’t be seeing that for a good while.

With this “NHL Outdoors” branding, there are four different outdoor games that can occur now: Outdoors, Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series. The only one that you can’t utilize in a league that needs all the money it can muster is the Outdoors concept. The rest of those are in over-capacity venues that will provide solid revenue for the league, while this Outdoors concept seems to be the one that is where there’s little to no fans. That way, the ad wizards at the TV license holder can pat themselves on the back when they keep using the ideal of “taking the game back to its origin” and remind us of all the players starting out on the pond playing hockey.

There’s a good chance that next season, we’ll have PLENTY of outdoors games– assuming people will be let into buildings to watch sporting events. When the NHL had the shortened 2012-13 season, they made up for the lost half-season by holding six outdoor games the next year and made some good cash off of that to put into the Hockey Related Revenue. For some reason, I could imagine that number at least doubling because of all the lost revenue from the pandemic not allowing capacity crowds into the buildings. They need to start to break even some how.

Which is why the Outdoors idea will only come into play when the league has the money it need and has a setting and teams that are remote enough that little to no fans will be in. We’ve joked on the Face Off Hockey Show about the idea of the league putting the game on an aircraft carrier like the NCAA did with the Carrier Classic or the WWE did with trying to slam Yokozuna. I mean, if they can make ice anywhere, the aircraft carrier is far too perfect, while also serving their want/need to hold games at military venues as they did at the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.

Everything was perfect for this event to take play and give a way to have an outdoor game in a pandemic. But it’s only because they couldn’t have fans anyway and the golf courses weren’t actively being used in February. Just don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen for another five years or so and everything is stabilized. Then you can have stories of how people tried to break into the closed event.

On the Topic Of Outdoor Hockey Games in a Pandemic

Not since the Williamsport Outlaws of the Federal Hockey League have some many teams clamored to play an entire hockey season outdoors. But a pandemic will do crazy things to you if you’re not careful, which is why the extreme measures seem to be looked at as an option. Elliotte Friedman made mention of this in an article stating that four teams have investigated playing outdoors and three others are at least interested.

For context, the Williamsport Outlaws attempted to play their entire home schedule of the 2012-13 season at Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania while they were awaiting completion of their own rink. Oddly enough, the plan didn’t work out for the low-minor league team and they ceased operations in January of 2013 before the FHL took over and made the team a traveling team for the rest of the year. The team collected about $240,000 in debt despite average over 1,000 per game and having a decent record to get people in the stands. Bus League Hockey has a great breakdown of the Outlaws’ plight.

Granted, these are NHL teams were talking about now and it’s not like their owners don’t have the money to scrape up coin and the connections to get deals on the fields, equipment, and so-on to have outdoor games and have the ability to get some people into the stands to watch their team play. It’s a novel idea to start getting some kind of revenue into the team…even if it won’t made a dent when it comes to operation costs in the long-run. Friedman mentions as much in the article.

But when you get to it, this goes to show that teams want to play and they want to have fans around and they don’t want to go into a bubble again because no revenues for another undetermined amount of time. Sure, part of that is because they’re losing money with every day that passes, but at the same time– I’m sure they want to see some kind of normal life come back into the fold as much as anyone, corporate greed notwithstanding. If anything, the idea of maybe going to a smaller venue that’s fitted for hockey would be better, especially if jurisdictions don’t allow for people into the arenas. The cost would be less, you wouldn’t have to shell for the equipment, and so on. Sure, the broadcasts would be interesting given those small rinks may not be made out for TV; but I think that’s a first-world problem scenario to have when it comes to getting hockey back onto the ice.

Selfishly, however, I would love to see what crazy millionaire owner would play an entire season outdoors, money be damned, just to have paying customers in the stands.

Battle of Atlanta Kicks Off Specialty Games for 2019-20

In light of another Chicago Blackhawks outdoor game, the NHL revealed locations for some of their specialty games coming up for the 2019-20 season.

First, the Heritage Classic will come back and take place in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 26. In what I’ll be calling “The Battle of Atlanta” the former Atlanta Flames will take on the former Atlanta Thrashers– with the Calgary Flames taking on the Winnipeg Jets. It’ll be the fifth Heritage Classic and first since 2016 in Winnipeg. With both teams on the rise in their divisions, it should prove to be an interesting match-up, especially early in the season.

Second, the NHL put forth next year’s Winter Classic, but this time in Dallas’s Cotton Bowl, as the Dallas Stars will host and unnamed opponent– which, if it’s not the Minnesota Wild, it’ll be a huge narrative disrupting event. Surprising that it’s not being held in JerryWorld at AT&T Stadium, as it would go with the NHL wanting a big venue for these events.

St. Louis will be the 2020 All-Star Game host for the third time (1970 and 1988 being the prior ones) through the weekend of January 24th until the 26th. We’ll be waiting with bated-breathe to see if Nelly and the St. Lunatics show up with Fred Brathwaite like they did in the “Welcome to Atlanta” remix.

Finally, the NHL also announced another Stadium Series game at a military academy, with the Colorado Avalanche hosting a game at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. Another game with no opponent, but hopefully the NHL will keep getting closer and closer to their goal of holding a game at West Point after going through two other military academies already.

Is there one better than the other?? Do you even care about the amount of outdoor games anymore?? Leave a comment or something to let me know….or don’t, I get paid the same either way.

TEPID TAKE: Hey, Look– Another Blackhawks Outdoor Game

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For Christ’s sake, the Blackhawks and Bruins playing in an outdoor game again??

Alright, well– I guess. Sure, the iconic situation of it being playing at Notre Dame Stadium ticks off another box that the NHL wanted to do in order to have complete world domination of the iconic non-hockey venues to host a hockey game and yes– you almost have to have the Blackhawks because of the proximity, but good lord do we have to keep having the same teams play over and again??

I don’t think that the Winter Classic was designed to have all the NHL teams play in it because if it’s a premier event, the NHL wants to put teams in it who will have a big ratings and attendance. That said, you need to have some sort of sight of what they does for the ratings overall. It’s the same argument made for having the same teams play on NBCSN all the time– people get sick of seeing it and with a gimmick that’s already been beaten to death with teams who have played more than their fair share– this can’t be that great for business.

Face Off Hockey Show had Greg Wyshynski on the show this past week and we asked him the future of these kind of NHL events, to which he said he’d like to see more neutral site games being played between teams to bring more fans in that wouldn’t necessarily see these teams unless they had a trip to do so.

Maybe this is the first step to get more out into neutral site games, but in all honesty– the teams that are in it sour the whole thing. Less of Boston because the Bruins don’t seem to be in these games all too much, but they are overexposed in the national TV side because they do have a big fanbase– not something to hate on, but it’s annoying.

But people will watch, the NHL will very much hype it up, and it will be some kind of success when all is said and done in spite of the teams that are playing in it and the disdain many people have for them.

Darlington: NASCAR’s Winter Classic

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It’s Darlington weekend coming up in NASCAR, which means the most gimmicky regular season race is happening in full-force. To appeal to the nostalgia crowd, Darlington Speedway decided that since NASCAR moved the Southern 500 back to Labor Day weekend; they would make it a “Throwback Weekend” where drivers and teams alike can really get into the old-time racing attitude and have fun with their paint schemes and their look and really by into that “Good Ol’ Boy” mentality that some think the modern NASCAR has been missing.

While it has been great to see the old paint schemes from yesteryear, the tributes to lesser known racers, the old-time broadcast effects, and the antics that the drivers put on; it’s still getting very, very stale very, very quickly. In fact, a lot of the teams aren’t trying anymore. There’s three cars this Sunday that look like they have the exact same red-white-and-blue scheme (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.Danica PatrickClint Bowyer), the #3 and #31 have just about the same paint scheme, and like always– the #43 is going to have a Richard Petty STP scheme on the track.

The Darlington Weekend is becoming like the NHL’s Winter Classic in some aspects. While the heart is in the right place for a different kind of feel, as it keeps going year-after-year, the whole vibe to the thing wears off. We all know who’s going to be there, you can be assured of what they’ll look like, and while it’s well-hyped– it comes off very “meh” by the end of it.

When the NHL starting doing their annual Winter Classic in 2008 (there was a one-off outdoor game in 2003 which started the wheels in motion for this), it was a great hype vehicle. It allowed for the NHL to go to historic venues of other sports to play their game and get a ton of revenue through ticket sales and merchandise. However, the biggest problem was over-saturating the market when the formula worked. Once they saw the Winter Classic work, they moved to a Stadium Series of multiple outdoor games, the Heritage Classic games in Canada, then when those faded– they started using the teams that people would watch and make the other fans annoyed with a team like the Chicago Blackhawks getting into all the outdoor games.

The NHL lost the plot because they killed a golden goose.

Yes, other markets wanted games, but you can’t blow the wad of outdoor games as quickly as the NHL has seemingly done. Hell, in 2014 alone they had six outdoor games. Last season, the NHL had four outdoor games– but I bet people maybe remember one. Sure, they have gone to places like Wrigley Field, the Big House in Michigan, and Fenway Park; but they’ve also played in BMO Field (Toronto), Investors Group Field (Winnipeg), and Levi’s Stadium.

While this race only happens in Darlington, the drivers and teams are going to the well too many times with the same thing. Not only the Richard Petty STP scheme, but the #13 always going with the Smokey Yunick scheme, and RCR going with some sort of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. scheme. The originality is starting to fade and there’s not much they can do to regulate it– unless they just kill the idea altogether– which they won’t do because then they can’t exploit it.

For this Darlington race, at least, it could be a tool to distract fans from realizing how much NASCAR has bungled this season with the segments, the mismanagement of how points are distributed through said segments, and just the overall lack of hype for the new ideas that NASCAR has tried to instill with their “activation” with Monster Energy. The sanctioning body is a detriment to themselves and the sport. Darlington Weekend is a passing fad that seems to be getting less and less interesting by the year due to the fact we’ve seen it all before and nothing really changes but the looks of the cars.