The stage was set on a snowy night at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada as the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets prepared for the Heritage Classic. As one of its outdoor games, the event was meant to be a shining moment for the NHL, and an opportunity to showcase the sport.
These games should provide terrific theatre for the league, bringing the game back to its roots and restoring a sense of purity. To coincide with this rhetoric, the teams were draped in their magnificent colors of yesteryear. The Flames ditched the black touches of the present, leaving them with a stunning red, yellow and orange combination beautifully painted onto fresh white jerseys. The Jets brought back their red shorts and classic logo, a nostalgic look for fans who could remember the original franchise in Winnipeg. It was an eloquent display of color on a bed of white ice, described by players as the best outdoor rink they ever played on.
Touched with sprinklings of snow and the night sky, it was a taste of hockey heaven. The Jets and Flames proceeded to play a thrilling game to which Bryan Little scored for Winnipeg to win 2-1 in overtime. The event could not have gone more perfectly.
Yet these details, orchestrated so wonderfully, went unnoticed by hockey fans throughout the continent. Besides the Jets and Flames fans in touch with each game their teams play, the Heritage Classic was not on the radar of hockey fans elsewhere. For a multitude of reasons, the intrigue in outdoor games has lost its luster.
While there is still some excitement for games in unique settings, they are no longer the premier events on the NHL calendar. Many hockey fans in the Eastern part of the United States would have not have been able to tell you that there was an outdoor game this past Saturday. Could the league be marketing these games better? Or is the allure of these games dissipating?
Originally, outdoor games were limited to once or twice a year, usually featuring the Heritage Classic in Canada and Winter Classic in the United States. Over the years, the venues have included historical seatings like Wrigley Field, Heinz Field and Fenway Park.
After having astounding success in its first few years of the Winter Classic, the NHL began to add other miscellaneous outdoor games such as the Stadium Series, which has included games at Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Soldier Field. The increased quantity of these types of games caused the novelty of the outdoor setting to wear off. With more games added, the NHL was able to schedule the same big market teams on a regular basis. It seemed as if teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers were appearing in these marquee meetings every other year. Naturally, fans lost interest in seeing the same production repeatedly.
Nonetheless, there can still be excitement in the spectacle of outdoor games, if executed correctly. Diversifying the participating teams is the first step, and the NHL has attempted to do so. This season’s Winter Classic will feature the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, two franchises that have never been part of the outside feastivities. Taking place at the historic Cotton Bowl, the game has the potential to partially reignite the Winter Classic.
These teams are bursting with star power, and have proven to be two of the more prevalent Western Conference teams over the past decade. Bringing them to the Winter Classic can inject some new life into the event.
While they may bring some buzz back to the New Year’s Day meeting, it will still be a challenge for the league to bring the game back to prominence. Simply put, as long as the league is scheduling outdoor contests all year long, fans will care less about each one. The surplus of outdoor games has made many of them difficult to successfully promote to non-local markets.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @dylan_barrett_.