I was listening to Gary Bettman talk about the new Stadium Series of outdoor games on Hockey Central on Tuesday, and I was intrigued by what he had to say. While many have said that the series would water down the spectacle of an outdoor hockey game, the commissioner is of the opinion that the series will give more cities and fans the chance to see an outdoor game.
In the interview, commissioner Bettman used Boston as an example of a city the NHL would like to host more outdoor games, but if the only game is the Winter Classic, they will only get the chance every few years. Bettman also mentioned that while the Winter Classic is a national event, the Stadium Series games are focused on regional interests. That is how the Rangers have two outdoor games this season, one against the Devils and the other against the Islanders. These games, coupled with an outdoor game in LA and a Canadian team in the Winter Classic, shows that the NHL is starting to think outside of the box when it comes to its outdoor match ups.
While there are some unconventional match ups this year, it is obvious that the NHL is going to utilize the Stadium Series to bring games to larger media markets more often. However, the stadium series gives me hope that some of the smaller markets can also be given the chance to host an outdoor game. The NHL cannot have New York, Boston, and Chicago host a game every year and therefore they will have to look to other markets to keep the Stadium Series fresh. This year that is the outdoor game in LA between the Kings and Ducks. Another potential market I have in mind is, of course, Columbus.
Columbus is by no means a small city, but NBC will not air any CBJ games this year, and only two games will appear on the NBC Sports Network. However, what Columbus lacks in media clout, it more than makes up for in the ability to put butts in seats. The reason Columbus can (and will) host an outdoor game in the future is Ohio Stadium. The Horseshoe can seat 102,329 fans but a crowd of 106,102 was recorded in 2012.
Bring in a local rival like Pittsburgh, or even better, Detroit, and Columbus could be a prime location for one of the Stadium Series games. NBC can have a field day with a Columbus vs Detroit game in Ohio Stadium with the Ohio State / Michigan rivalry. Detroit or Pittsburgh would have the star power and history that makes for good national television, while also being close enough for fans of both teams to make the trip.
I am optimistic that the Stadium Series will make a stop in Columbus at some point in the future. The additional outdoor games may dilute the spectacle of hockey in a large stadium, but it gives the fans of cities who would normally never be considered for a Winter Classic hope that their city could get a piece of the outdoor game pie. This city has the fans, the rivals, and the venue to make the NHL Stadium Series and Columbus a perfect match.