Hockey fans were excited to learn last week that the 2014 Winter Classic will be played between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at the University of Michigan after the 2013 event was cancelled due to the lockout.
David Pagnotta @TheFourthPeriod
The TOR/DET Winter Classic is still on... but NHL will likely add 1-2 (or more) outdoor games after WC next season. NYC & LA been discussed2/23/2013, 11:31:33 PM
Dennis Bernstein @DennisTFP
Furthering @TheFourthPeriod on outdoor games, hear Heritage Classic 2014 1st wkend March Vancouver or Edmonton host. 4 outdoor games in all2/24/2013, 4:15:02 AM
The possibility of four outdoor games plus the Winter Olympics could make for an amazing three months of hockey from January through March of next year.
Even though having multiple outdoor games may seem excessive at first, it's actually a great idea.
The Winter Classic is extremely popular and hugely successful, so it's no surprise that there's a ton of teams interested in hosting the event each season.
But since the NHL has only played one of these outdoor games per season since 2008, a lot of teams and venues have not been given the opportunity to host a Winter Classic. If the NHL continues to have just one outdoor game each season, some of these deserving franchises might not host a game for quite some time.
The best way to include more teams in outdoor games is to simply schedule more of them.
Including the upcoming 2014 Winter Classic, there will have been six of these games with only nine different teams taking part in the event.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, who are scheduled to play the Red Wings in the 2014 game, will become the first Canadian franchise to play in the Winter Classic.
Since outdoor hockey is most popular in Canada, the lack of Canadian teams in the Winter Classic since the event's creation has been embarrassing.
The NHL has given these games to popular teams in large United States markets, which allow the league and its television partner, NBC, to earn a lot of revenue and achieve great television ratings.
However, it's easy to understand the league's strategy in choosing these popular American teams. The NHL puts a lot of effort into growing the game in the United States each season, and putting Canadian franchises in the Winter Classic isn't going to attract a lot of casual fans.
Overall, the league needs to get more teams involved in outdoor games, especially in Canada. There are so many small- and large-market teams that would benefit greatly from the revenue, exposure and excitement that hosting and playing in an outdoor NHL game brings to the communities involved.
Here are some American and Canadian teams and venues that deserve to host an outdoor NHL game in the near future.
1) United States
|Minnesota Wild||TCF Bank Stadium||The "State of Hockey" is the perfect place to host an outdoor game. The Wild also have a more popular team after signing free-agent stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer.|
|St. Louis Blues||Busch Stadium||The St. Louis Blues are a historic franchise and one of the top contenders to win the Western Conference. The team's passionate and loyal fanbase deserves to have a game at the beautiful Busch Stadium.|
|New York Rangers||Yankee Stadium||An outdoor game between the Rangers and a hated rival (Devils or Islanders) at Yankee Stadium would be amazing.|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||Ohio Stadium (Ohio State)||The Blue Jackets playing in front of 100,000-plus fans at the Ohio Stadium would be incredible.|
|Colorado Avalanche||Invesco Field at Mile High||The cold winters of Denver would provide a great atmosphere for an exciting outdoor hockey game in January.|
|Los Angeles Kings||Dodger Stadium||Having an outdoor hockey event in Los Angeles while the Kings are a top-tier team would help grow the sport of hockey in Southern California.|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Rogers Centre||Taking the Canadiens and Leafs rivalry to the Rogers Centre would be unbelievable.|
|Ottawa Senators||Frank Clair Stadium||The Senators and Leafs would be a great rivalry matchup for an outdoor game, especially since both teams are playoff contenders again.|
|Calgary Flames||McMahon Stadium||After the Edmonton Oilers hosted the Flames in the 2003 Heritage Classic, it's time to take the "Battle of Alberta" to Calgary.|
|Vancouver Canucks||BC Place||An outdoor event featuring a 2011 Stanley Cup rematch between the Canucks and Bruins would be must-see TV.|
|Winnipeg Jets||Investors Group Field||The Jets and Oilers would be a great matchup for the first ever outdoor hockey game at Investors Group Field.|
It's hard to imagine fans ever getting sick of outdoor NHL games, especially in Canada. These games are unique events that celebrate the sport and give fans the opportunity to be a part of a truly special experience they will never forget.
The previous success of the Winter Classic, in addition to the cancellation of this season's game, will likely result in the NHL scheduling as many of these games as possible for next season to maximize its revenue from outdoor games.
The classic sweaters that each team wears, the vintage memorabilia that each team sells and all the concessions that are sold at these outdoor stadiums generate a ton of money for the sport. As we have seen in the two most recent lockouts, NHL owners will do anything (even cancel a season) to ensure that they make the most money possible.
People are going to watch these games on television regardless of how many there are around the league and where they are played, especially if the NHL and NBC/CBC continue to do a great job of promoting these events. Watching your team play in an outdoor setting with special jerseys is exciting, especially when the opposing team is a hated rival.
According to an NBC press release (h/t TVbytheNumbers), five of the six highest-rated regular-season games prior to 2013 have been Winter Classic matchups.
4.5 million Jan. 1, 2011 NBC Capitals-Penguins
4.4 million Jan. 1, 2009 NBC Red Wings-Blackhawks
3.8 million Jan. 27, 1996 FOX Six-game regional coverage
3.8 million Jan. 1, 2008 NBC Penguins-Sabres
3.74 million Jan. 2, 2012 NBC Rangers-Flyers
3.68 million Jan. 1, 2010 NBC Flyers-Bruins
Not every outdoor game, whether it's a Winter Classic or a Heritage Classic, is guaranteed to be one of the highest-rated regular-season games of all time. However, if the league and its television partners generate ratings and revenue from an outdoor game that are much higher than what's expected from a normal regular-season matchup, then the outdoor event was a success.
If the league schedules multiple outdoor games and spreads them out so all of them aren't played on the same day, the ratings should be fantastic.
After losing a lot of revenue during the lockout, both the NHL and NHLPA need to come up with ways to generate more revenue that can be shared between the two sides while also benefiting the fans. Scheduling more outdoor games is a perfect way to help the league soar above the record $3.3 billion of revenue that it earned during the 2011-12 season.
The Winter Classic is the best idea that the NHL has ever come up with to increase its number of fans, revenue and popularity. Scheduling more than one of these outdoor games for the 2013-14 season would be another smart move by the league and its brilliant COO, John Collins.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.
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