Why’s everyone hating on the outdoor game?

20Sep07

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the last time we saw Wayne Gretzky in an Oilers uniform back at the Heritage Classic a few years ago. Remember how excited everyone was for both the alumni game and the actual game between Edmonton and Montreal? Remember the really cool shot of Jose Theodore (before his fall from grace) wearing a Habs toque over his goalie mask? Remember how everyone — fans, media, and NHL officials — remarked about what a fun experience it was and how it should be done again in some form?

Remember how a bunch of different teams discussed the possibility of their own outdoor game, from a Toronto/Montreal game to the Red Wings hosting one to a battle of New York teams?

If my memory serves me correctly, all of that discussion was done with a fair amount of excitement and passion. So if that’s the case now, why is the upcoming outdoor game between Buffalo and Pittsburgh getting a beating in the media? It’s being called everything from stupid to frivolous to a cash grab, and no one seems to be extending the generosity or goodwill that the original Heritage Classic got.

Sure, it’s a little bit of a novelty event, but it’s really hard to say that the NHL is going to the well one too many times. After all, this is only the SECOND outdoor event in a number of years, so it’s not like the idea’s been beaten to death (other outdoor games, such as the Michigan vs. Michigan State one, don’t count). I’m not advocating that this go on every year, but if it’s every now and then, I don’t see the hurt in that.

Logistically, you can point at how the outdoor environment takes the game out of standard NHL conditions (weather, wind, ice, etc.), thus perhaps affecting a normal regular season outcome. I don’t buy it. You can play on slushy ice in Dallas or fast ice in Edmonton or outdoors in Buffalo; to me, it’s all the same as long as both teams face the same conditions.

Some people are angry about the teams involved, like it should be an exclusive Original Six or Canadian team thing. It’s a legit point of contention, but look at it from a league standpoint — yes, it’s a cool event, but it’s really all about marketing. This game will hopefully generate higher-than-normal TV ratings, so with that in mind, what’s the best thing to do? Take the best-selling merchandise team (Buffalo) with the league’s most recognizable player (Sidney Crosby) and put them out there. The fact that Buffalo plays an uptempo style and that Pittsburgh’s an offensive juggernaut should make for a really entertaining game, and the massive crowd and unique location should provide at least a few moments worthy of daily highlight shows.

Some have called for making the Winter Classic an exhibition or All-Star venue rather than a regular season game, and I definitely agree that that makes more sense from a logistics perspective. However, that doesn’t mean that this season’s version of it is an abomination; to me, I see it as a neat idea that will generate some media interest while giving a large number of fans a pretty unique event to go to. I don’t think the cash-grab claims are that legit regarding ticket sales — the gate reciepts are not going to make or break Buffalo bottom line. (Random aside: I think the TRUE cash grab is redesigning jerseys to go with the new RBK Edge material) Instead, this is all about marketing, and I’m not going to blame the league for exploring a new idea as long as it doesn’t betray the core of the game or the fan’s viewing experience.

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3 Responses to “Why’s everyone hating on the outdoor game?”

  1. 1 Panger

    I couldn’t agree more with you, Mike. I haven’t seen the specific criticism of the game other than what you’ve made mention of, but I’ve seen the NHL make much worse decisions than this. From unneeded expansion (money grab) to the VS television deal (money grab), I think the idea of having a game such as this that will actually warrant a mention on the largest US Sports Channel (note that they actually showed hockey highlights back when they were broadcasting games) is a fine one and if people want to criticize the NHL, I think there’s a lot more low hanging fruit to pick than this game.

  2. 2 hockeynarrative.com

    I too don’t see the harm. As long as both teams are cool with it and the fans are willing to sit outside for 3 hours (which they obviously are judging by how fast the tickets were sold)then it seems like a winner.

    The issue regarding how the tickets were sold is another story. Perhaps Bettman will appease the fans who missed out by offering another game, thus showing what a swell guy he is while bringing in 3 times the gate of an average game…

  3. 3 Skooteri

    I think the criticism is due to the fact that there are no Canadian teams heh? From a league growth prespective, it makes perfect sense to showcase this in the states- that is where hockey needs the most exposure.

    Let’s not forget how succesful March of the Penguins was at the box office. Do you think they could get Sid to sit on an egg for a while? 😉


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