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Volume 20 No. 42
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NHL pushes tentpole planning beyond a year

The NHL is stressing the importance of planning ahead.

While the league has not yet played an outdoor game this season, it is already laying out its plans for 2019 as part of a concerted effort to build its event calendar out further ahead.

It was expected that the NHL would announce that the 2019 Winter Classic will be played at Notre Dame Stadium between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins during this past weekend’s Notre Dame-Navy football game on NBC. The league is also expected to announce during NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys that the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will play at Lincoln Financial Field on Feb. 23, 2019.

In announcing these events now, the league will have more than a year until they are played. In comparison, the two outdoor games scheduled for 2018 — the Winter Classic at Citi Field and the Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, were announced in May, seven to nine months before those games will be played.

The NHL’s Gary Bettman outlines plans for Citi Field to play host to the 2018 Winter Classic.
GETTY IMAGES
Better long-term planning has been a goal of Steve Mayer, NHL executive vice president and chief content officer, who joined the league in December 2015 and is entrusted with building the league’s events.

“When you have 13 or 15 months before an event, it enables every facet of that event to thrive,” he said. “From a league standpoint, to the team standpoint, to the city standpoint, to giving sponsors more time to plan their activations around the game, it just gives everyone the ability to do so much more.”

That lead time could allow the league to bring in bigger musical acts for the game, for a sponsor to have a larger activation or a team to plan more local events, as well as more promotion across NBC, which will also air both games.

The NHL is aiming to announce the 2019 All-Star Game site earlier as well. The league recently sent out an RFP to teams, seeking bids for hosting the game in 2019, as well as 2020, 2021 and 2022. The 2018 All-Star Game, set to be played in Tampa on Jan. 28, was announced in May.

When the league hosts an event, the question of who is hosting the next one is commonly asked. Now the league will not only answer that question but also allow for a more fluid link between each year’s events, with the opportunity to begin promoting the future event while the current one is ongoing.

Mayer said that while having more lead time before an event makes it hard to predict the quality of the matchup — or even which players the league can market around — the tradition and special nature of the events themselves can outweigh those factors in the eyes of fans.

“There’s a strong reason why you’d want to do this like how the Super Bowl is also done,” Mayer said. “With a little more lead time, I think we can make these events feel even more special.”