With the Super Bowl on everyone's mind, particularly anyone and everyone mindful of marketing developments, some credit needs to be given to another sport for coming up with a really cool idea.
In 2008, the National Hockey League debuted its Winter Classic. Simple concept. Play a game outdoors in a stadium. Hope it's really cold. If it snows, even better. It will look great on TV. Non-hockey fans might watch it for the spectacle.
Mind you, this is a league that has gone through four work stoppages since 1992 – so a big idea was needed to get back in its fans' good graces and maybe win over some new ones.
This year, the NHL expanded on the concept, debuting its Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. Four additional games would be played outdoors, including two at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. One of those was played this past Sunday, pitting the New York Rangers against the New Jersey Devils. More than 50,000 people braved the cold, including yours truly.
It was freezing. I had so many layers on, I could barely move. My butt practically stuck to my seat the way Flick's tongue did to that pole in A Christmas Story. The game was delayed for more than an hour due to glare on the ice. (They didn't anticipate that?) I had “good seats,” but the rink's placement in the middle of the field made it very difficult to follow the action. I basically watched the game on the stadium's big screen.
None of that mattered. I had a blast. Honestly, it was one of the best sporting events I've ever attended. It even snowed in the second period. It looks great on TV, but it's even better in person.
I'd imagine that when it first conceived the outdoor-game concept, the NHL might have fretted about people's willingness to brave the elements. I'll admit, I thought about it a few times. However, it was an “event,” so I pushed forth. I'm glad I did.
Scheduling more outdoor games is a good idea because it gives fans in different cities more opportunity to experience the spectacle. However, I would hope the league doesn't go beyond the handful of such games it now presents. That would dilute the uniqueness of the offering. When Major League Baseball debuted interleague play in 1997 – another bold idea unveiled not long after a players strike – it was quite well received. Now, there are games pitting American and National League teams every day. Those games aren't as special now.
In sports, you can rarely say everyone wins. However, in the case of the NHL and its outdoor game concept, victors are everywhere. The fans. NBC, which carries all the games. The brands, especially brand National Hockey League for doing something really cool.