SBD/April 18, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Outdoor Plans: Just Meeting Demand, Or Too Much Of A Good Thing?

There is concern multiple outdoor games will hurt their novelty factor
NHL officials are “getting asked whether holding an additional five outdoor games next season might constitute an oversaturation of a good idea,” but the “truth is it won't even keep up with demand,” according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. The original NHL plan “seemed to be to keep these games exclusive and rare, but the success of the events has far exceeded expectations.” NHL COO John Collins has “turned outdoor hockey into a carnival experience,” and the concept of playing a game outside has “become such a momentous event that it would have been unfair not to give more teams the chance to host one.” Critics say that “too many games will reduce the appeal, but the novelty isn't close to wearing off at the local level.” The NHL has “wanted to go to Yankee Stadium since unveiling the outdoor concept” in ‘08, but the New Era Pinstripe Bowl “has prevented that.” By expanding “beyond Jan. 1, the league found a way to get there.” The NHL also “increases the possibility of games being played on Lambeau Field's frozen tundra or Penn State's football field or other high-profile neutral sites” (USA TODAY, 4/18). THE HOCKEY NEWS’ Ryan Kennedy wrote the “most obvious qualm is that the league could kill the golden goose by saturating the sport with these specials, but ask the cities that have hosted in the past and they’ll tell you a return to the great outdoors in their market would be welcomed with open arms.” Kennedy asks, “Have any of the previous outdoor games been failures? Is there any reason to believe fans won’t flock to Soldier Field or BC Place?” (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 4/17).

BIGGER IS BETTER: YAHOO SPORTS’ Nicholas Cotsonika wrote more outdoor games is "better, as counterintuitive as that might seem in this case.” Teams “really like outdoor games, and fans really like outdoor games, and so the NHL is giving them more.” Cotsonika: “Too much of a good thing? We’ll see, but not necessarily. Depends how you look at it.” The possible dilution of demand for outdoor games is “an obvious, legitimate concern.” If the NHL “fails to sell out any of these games,” it “will have failed.” There are “other concerns, too.” The more games, “especially if they include warm places like L.A., the greater the chances that something will go wrong because of weather or logistics.” Also, playing two games in N.Y. “right before the Super Bowl is played there could backfire if they are swallowed by the NFL hype.” But these games “will still be special in their own way.” They will “still be gold mines.” Cotsonika: “Will the novelty wear off on a national level? Yes. Of course. … Will the novelty wear off on a local level? Probably not any time soon” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/17). WSCR-AM's Laurence Holmes said, “Hockey’s still at a point where it can grow. It can still have outreach to other fans. Why not try this? See if you can pack the place.” WTMX-FM's Eric Ferguson said, "The NHL is doing a good job of recovering post-strike in doing these types of things and putting them out there. Many of us were doubting, ‘Is the NHL brand dead? Are the fans going to come back?’ I think we’ve answered that question league-wide, and this is just yet another step in that process” ("Sports Talk Live," CSN Chicago, 4/17). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, along with the HBO tie-in, "will still be great for the NHL, but these other games will be fun, too” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/17).

GOING OVERBOARD
: The GLOBE & MAIL’s Eric Duhatschek writes under the header, "Additional Outdoor Games Are Too Much Of A Good Thing." Duhatschek: “One game, brilliant. Two games, doable. Three, a stretch, but who doesn’t want to see how outdoor hockey looks in Chavez Ravine? But six? Six seems like overkill.” Six outdoor games “looks like a cash grab because, hey, let’s face it, those tickets will sell fast as a ‘local in-market event.’” Part of what makes an outdoor game “so compelling is the novelty factor.” It just “makes more sense to keep it as a special event, something you can point to annually on the hockey calendar and say, ‘gotta set aside time for that.’” The minute it becomes a “choice of six, then suddenly, the dilution starts -- and who knows where it could end?” (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/18). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "It’s too many. If they did them all in one weekend and had like this sort of outdoor weekend and they did it in four or five places … I can live with that. But don't spread it out over a month's period of time.” ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "This will dilute the product. I understand why they want to do it because it's the highest-rated regular-season game they have. If you want to put one in the United States and one in Canada, I’m okay with that” ("PTI," ESPN, 4/17). In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon wrote staging several games outdoors during the same season “kills [the] charm” of the Winter Classic. Gordon: “Leave it to Gary Bettman, the league's Architect of Doom, to spoil a good thing with a shameless money grab.” Can the NHL “meet that high bar while staging these events all over the continent?” Would it “really be special in a place like St. Louis some day, as just another stadium game?” (STLTODAY.com, 4/17). In Chicago, Tracey Myers wrote under the header, “The Winter Classic Is No Longer A Unique Game.” Playing outdoors is “going to get old faster than it would’ve if it had just been kept to that beautiful Jan. 1 game” (CSNCHICAGO.com, 4/16).

MORE THAN A MONEY GRAB? In Vancouver, Jim Jamieson writes, “If you are cynical hockey purist, you might see it simply as a money grab by the NHL.” But Univ. of British Columbia Sauder School of Business professor James Brander said, “The outdoor games so far have made a lot of money and they generate a lot of very positive feeling about the NHL. So what do you do in business when you have a successful product? You do more of it. Of course, it will in some sense cheapen the impact of any one game, but I’d bet it will be financially successful” (Vancouver PROVINCE, 4/178).

PLAYERS REACT: Penguins D Kris Letang yesterday said, “I’ve gotten enough of outdoor games. ... It’s pretty cool for the fans, I guess. It’s a good experience and everything, but I think they should make it more unique instead of having a bunch of them. It’s something you want to see once a year, not 15 times” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 4/18). Oilers C Shawn Horcoff: “Six games? Takes the lustre off having one on New Year’s Day, but if they put them in markets where fans want them and they’ll pack the stadiums, I’m all for it. Anything to grow the game and the fans really, really enjoy it, great. An outdoor game in L.A. in January? Yeah, that’s interesting” (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 4/17). Devils G Martin Brodeur: “It’s nice that some markets will get affected a little more. It seems to be a lot of the same areas all the time with the teams out west and in the New York area.” Devils F Alexei Ponikarovsky when asked if a six-game outdoor series would take away from the originality of the main Winter Classic event said, “I wouldn’t say so, I think people would like to see actually more games like that" (NYPOST.com, 4/17).
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