On Wednesday, reports surfaced that several NHL teams were considering playing a number of their games outdoors during the 2020-21 season, but it’s a long shot. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, those teams discussing the feasibility of playing part of their season at outdoor venues included the Boston Bruins, Pittsburg Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.
But why stop there? Let’s embrace the madness!
ODR SEASON IS HERE 🙌— NHL (@NHL) October 27, 2020
(🎥 IG/anthonydachillest) pic.twitter.com/N7OA5u0YYJ
Here is why I think the NHL should encourage every team to play every game outside in the 2020-21 season:
Playing Hockey Outdoors Makes the NHL Safer
First and foremost, playing NHL games outdoors is going to be safer than playing games indoors. As vaccine distribution is still several months away, COVID-19 concerns will continue to plague sports leagues. Playing games outdoors would reduce the rate of transmission between players and personnel on opposing teams, should someone unknowingly contract the virus.
The Financial Benefits of Playing Games Outdoors
Equally important, playing outside would allow team’s to collect gate-revenue, a concept foreign to many North American sports leagues in 2020. At outdoor venues, fans would be able to socially-distance and enjoy the game safely.
This is important because, as a league, the NHL is more dependent on box-office revenue than its competitors. While the exact number of tickets teams would be able to sell depends on local rules and the venue in question, it is certain that more fans will be permitted to attend NHL games should they be played outdoors, rather than indoors.
In addition, the NHL’s outdoor games tend to gross extremely well for the NHL. Since its inception in 2008, the Winter Classic has become a marquee event for the league. These games, as well as ‘Heritage Classic’ and ‘Stadium Series’ games almost always gain more viewership than games played under normal conditions.
In tandem, these factors would help owners begin to recoup revenue lost as a result of the pandemic.
It’s worth noting that these outdoor games gross so well because the NHL makes them into spectacular events. The games are played in decorated venues, accompanied with loads of theatrics, and promoted extensively. Also, the games are placed strategically. The ‘Winter Classic,’ for example, is played on New Years’ Day.
If every game was to be played outside, it’s unrealistic to dress up each venue for every game, but that’s not the point of playing outdoors anyways. Outdoor hockey can still be beautiful in simplicity, and …
Outdoor Hockey Is Really, Really Cool
The NHL has hosted a slew of outdoor games during the past two decades. Since 2003, when the first ‘Heritage Classic’ was played between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium, there have been dozens of outdoor games.
And rightly so. Everyone loves outdoor hockey.
Don’t take it from me, listen to what these players have to say about their experiences playing at outdoor venues.
“I think I was smiling the whole time. It was just something that you just go out there and that’s what hockey is – that’s where it all started. I think everyone was just happy to be there. To get the two points made it extra special.”Ryan Malone on the 2008 Winter Classic, per NHL.com
“If I was out there watching that game or I was watching this on television I would say, ‘That was awesome, man.’ The whole thing was awesome.”Rick Bowness on the 2020 Winter Classic, per NHL.com
Finding Venues for Outdoor NHL Games
Putting on outdoor games requires months of planning and is expensive for the NHL. So, with owners already strapped-for-cash, financial concerns over playing so many outdoor games may be raised. Additionally, the NHL has to ensure that the venues they intend to use, which often belong to other local professional teams, will be available to host the game.
The league could cut costs and forgo this logistical headache if they play outdoor games on rivers and lakes, rather than at local venues. Of course, rink and boards would still have to be built, but just imagine the theatrics of it all.
Playing Down South
Outdoor NHL games are inherently more suitable to some climates than others. In order to maintain the ice and safe playing conditions, the weather needs to be just right. These conditions could be met for the majority of the season for teams located in Canada and the northern United States. But, the same may not go for teams located in southern states.
This, however, isn’t the end of the world.
First off, the NHL has some super smart people who know exactly what it takes to create and maintain ice of the highest quality. If this group can figure out how to prepare ice for NHL games to be played outdoors in Dallas (as they did for the 2020 Winter Classic) who’s to say they can’t do the same for Tampa or Arizona?
Secondly, of the 31 NHL teams, only four are located in areas south of Anaheim – home of the Ducks. The Ducks were one of the teams having preliminary discussions about playing outdoors. I’m sure that if they can make it work in Anaheim, the Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars (pictured playing outdoors above), Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers can, too.
And for what it’s worth, by April the Panthers and Coyotes probably won’t be playing any longer anyways.
So, Will It Happen?
Realistically, the logistics of playing an entire season, even a COVID-shortened season, outdoors are probably too complicated to overcome. Whether or not even those teams in preliminary discussions about playing some games outdoors will come to fruition remains to be seen.
But a boy can hope.
Outdoor hockey is awesome and there’s no disputing that. Even just a few outdoor games would be fun to watch, even from my couch. So for now, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.