The Great Outdoors

The big news last night was that the NHL is expanding its outdoor schedule to carry five more outdoor games in larger venues in addition to the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at the Big House in Ann Arbor. In that series, the Hawks are scheduled to take on the Penguins on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Soldier Field. And thus far, most have seemed to agree with Puck Daddy’s Harrison Mooney and his claim that this is a cynical cash grab. But while Mooney is right in that aspect of it, he’s incorrect in stating that it’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of thing Hawks fans should be glad is happening.

With the addition of more outdoor games at a wide swath of venues, including the seemingly unfriendly climate of Southern California at Dodger Stadium, the primary argument against the league’s action is that it dilutes the “magic” and “uniqueness” of Winter Classics past and present. This is a load of hogwash from the very beginning of the series, as Ralph Wilson Stadium, the site of the first Classic between the Sabres and Penguins isn’t exactly a hallowed venue known for its storied history of winning, Frank Reich’s heroics against the Houston Oilers notwithstanding. Same goes for both Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, with both parks sharing upwards of a century of championship droughts to go along with their fabled grounds. Furthermore, anything dubbed a “Classic” by corporate sponsors and league P.R. execs prior to the puck being dropped in its inaugural game reeks of cynicism from its very inception. As such, any of these claims can be thrown right out the window.

From a more practical standpoint, after the league and players association embarrassed themselves thoroughly with this most recent work stoppage, sextupling-down on an event that has always brought the league positive press hardly seems like the worst idea for a League in desperate need of an image boost. But on top of that, one of the results from the lockout was a lowered cap as a result of a smaller share of revenue now going to the players in the 2013-2014 season, and this is a tactic that will benefit organizations such as the Hawks in the long run, even if they’re not participating in any of the games in the future.

If the average NHL arena seats approximately 20,000 people, games at these venues (aside from the already scheduled game at the Big House) will get about an extra 35,000 people through the turnstiles per game, totaling about 175,000 more tickets sold. That’s the equivalent to about nine extra games’ worth of attendance added to HRR, with all of these tickets sold at premium prices. Not to mention all of the commensurate television ad revenue, as these games televise incredibly well, and the premium prices for sponsorship of all the ancillary events that go with it. Because the fact of the matter is that for all the carping about the games losing their magic, people will instinctively flock to these things like the salmon of Capistrano.

Furthermore, the NHL is doing this in an Olympic year, when the general public’s interest in hockey is heightened as a result of the game being played by the world’s best on network television for two weeks straight. These games could have a multiplicative residual effect in future seasons if the league is able to convert the coveted “casual fan” into a long term die hard. The league is also doing two games the week before the Super Bowl in New York, further exemplifying their laser focus in attracting national attention and revenue.

Of course, all of this means increased money for the evil owners, who strong-armed themselves into getting a bigger slice of the revenue pie during the last CBA staring contest. But if they enlarge the pie (if you’ll pardon the expression) via these methods, then there becomes more overall money that goes to the players, and therefore increases the salary cap.

Any fans of large market teams, as we are for the Hawks, should obviously welcome an increased cap, especially with the inevitable buyouts of Rusty Olesz and Steve Montador looming. Yes, that money won’t count against the cap, but it will still come out of Rocky Wirtz’s pocket. But if there is a buffer built in through these outdoor games, owners like Rocky, Ed Snider, James Dolan, and others, will be more inclined to spend to the cap, however high it might climb. Artificially inflating the cap like this also makes it easier to keep winning teams together for longer periods of time, something everyone here should have an acute sensitivity to. Thanks again, Dale.

Of course, the results of this will only raise the salary floor in conjunction with the salary cap, and once again create a gap between the league’s haves and have-nots that will cause everyone to barrel headlong into yet another lockout, unless by some miracle these teams move to markets that can support them. But hey, if it enables the Hawks to match a ridiculous offer sheet Paul Holmgren gives Brandon Saad in two years, I say get your asses outside boys.

  • Im now fully expecting that Saad offer sheet. I hate you.

    • thefearlessfreep

      I agree. I may be asking a dumb question, but as Saad is showing himself to be the real deal, could the Hawks sign him to a new deal before his rookie contract lapses? Could this avoid the offer sheet problem?

      • girlphoenix

        Hawks resigned Kane and Toews before their ELC ended. I think they just have to be within a year of the contract ending.

        • pompoon

          I think you’re right; I’m pretty sure the ELC is the same as any other contract in that it can be extended in its last year. Helps teams hang on to good younger players.

    • mightymikeD

      Naaah. He can be signed up ahead of the expiry of his ELC.. and he will be (or traded for some serious return: look how often his name popped up in the run-in to the Deadline). Personally, pay the kid some damn good money and get him locked in for years. Future Captain if he keeps going like this.

      • Accipiter

        Are we trading Toews now ?

        • mightymikeD

          Boom and, indeed, Tish

        • lizmcneill

          Yeah, remember Toews is only 4-ish years older than Saad. Let’s hope that his retirement is a long way off.

        • robondacob

          He did get smoked by Bolland in the faceoffs department last game…

    • StealingHappyHour

      I’ll eat my own shit if Bowman doesn’t extend Toews and Kane before that summer.

      *This assumes I didn’t miss the new CBA outlawing extensions.

  • JesusMarianHossa

    Great for the reasons listed above. However, having attended the Hockey City Classic this year I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I will not be attending any outdoor hockey games in the near future. For the same reasons Bears games past Halloween and Cubs games in April.

    It’s too fucking cold to sit outside for three hours. I value my appendages. But please, don’t let that stop anyone else from buying tickets because MOAR CAP SPACE PLZ.

  • 334Rules

    I’ve attended both of the recent outdoor games in Chicago. The game at Wrigley – while exciting on an “event” level – was absolutely horseshit for actually watching hockey. The college double-header at Soldier Field – by contrast – was outstanding. First, the sightlines in a football stadium are much more suited for a hockey rink. Second, the seats were more comfortable. We pretty much stood the entire time at Wrigley, mostly because we couldn’t sit in the seats, bundled up as we were in parkas and snow pants. Maybe it was an illusion, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the football arena seats are a bit wider, in anticipation of the fact that the spectators usually wear bulkier clothing.

    Obviously, the big concern for any outdoor hockey game is the weather and its effect on the ice surface. The temperature should still be ok on March 1 in Chicago.

  • cliffkoroll

    Exactly. Too many people throw around terms like ‘cynical cash grab’ like it’s a bad thing.

    • guest

      This is what I keep telling people. If you want to watch games with the maximum heart, soul, etc and little to no money involved, find a local high school/college team to follow. Or, more sarcastically and for the purest experience, hop a plane to Bumblefuck, Ontario and find a pond to sit at until a group of truculent Ontario boys comes by to have it out.

      If you want to see games with heart, soul, aaand the best hockey players alive, well then there’s got to be money involved. A lot of it.

    • mad-hatter

      Breaking news: Organization whose entire purpose is to make money upsets customers in an attempt to make more money.

  • mad-hatter

    Dollah dollah bill, y’all!

  • Bannerman

    From a hockey standpoint, wouldn’t you much rather watch the Hawks- Pens on actual ice instead of slush?

    As for drawing in the casual fan, are they drawn by the uniqueness of the one outdoor game a year? I’ve never been to an outdoor hockey game. For those who have, would you want the first NHL game you ever went to to be outdoors? If you’re new to hockey, won’t it be that much harder to understand what’s happening at an outdoor game?

    These would be my only concerns.

    • Z-man19

      I watch a lot of hockey but have never been to an NHL game, I would prefer seeing my first NHL game in a building but would go to an outdoor game with the understanding that I may not see the greatest hockey.

      For someone who doesn’t watch much/any hockey, will they really understand the difference if the ice is poor. Would that same person go to the UC to see their first game or would they be more likely to go to an outdoor game just to go? My guess is that these games will attract more people who have little interest in hockey just because its unique. Maybe it won’t be the best hockey they could see but it might be good enough to turn them into fans.

      • guest

        Wait wait wait this entire conversation is based on a ridiculous premise. In what world has the UC ice EVER been better than an outdoor rink on March 1?

        • Z-man19

          Depends on where the outdoor rink is but valid point

        • DesertHawk

          The world where Jordan used to be a Bull.

  • Z-man19

    The Beej give the Hawks the top seed and they take over the 8th seed.

    • mad-hatter

      Fuckin #Lumbus!!!

      • Z-man19

        And Scum losing to Flame, wow. Scum do have a game in hand though, I think

        • mad-hatter

          I don’t know if has updated yet, but they apparently have identical records. Lumbus does have the harder upcoming schedule, but Scum did just lose to Calgary…

          • 2883

            No Detroit owns the tiebreak over the Beej’s

          • mad-hatter

            Was just about to edit my comment to add that Lumbus is in 8th but Scum does have a game in hand. And before the standings were updated they had both had 20-16-7 for a time and that’s what I meant by identical.

    • Almost feel bad saying it, and it feels weird to even think it, but I’d much rather play Detroit than the bjs. The Detroit will find a way to be comp/ win games due to experience or whatev is bs. Hawks roll that series in 5 easy, at worst. Bob will steal at least one game for the jobs.

  • mad-hatter
  • chichicagochi

    Best post I’ve ever read on TCI