The NHL has outdoor fever and the only cure is more outdoor games. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly appeared on Sportsnet's Hockey Central at Noon on Monday afternoon and stated that the NHL plans to continue its slate of outdoor games next season.
"That's the plan, currently," Daly said when asked about the continuation of the Stadium Series on an annual basis. "I don't know if you'll always see as many games as we planned for this year. As a matter of fact, I probably suggest that you won't. It is an aggressive slate of games. But yeah, the intention -- hoping all goes well -- is the Stadium Series will be continued."
The Stadium Series has been developed as a supplemental source of outdoor hockey to compliment the NHL's primary regular season event, the Winter Classic. Daly expressed that the league is hoping to spread the property to multiple markets so as to avoid a small group of teams participating in the event. The Stadium Series allows the league to accomplish this goal by awarding auxiliary games outside of the Winter Classic brand.
This enables more franchises and cities to host events, which has developed interest across the league. This includes the Phoenix Coyotes, who are hoping to be awarded a Stadium Series game next season with the intention of capitalizing on the Super Bowl taking place at the University of Phoenix Stadium in 2015.
Coyotes CEO and president, Anthony LeBlanc, expressed that an outdoor game would be beneficial to growing the team's brand in Arizona, via The Canadian Press:
"It's very attractive to us," LeBlanc said. "We're trying to grow the brand of the National Hockey League in Arizona, which is a non-traditional market. Anything we can do that will help us accelerate growing that brand we're going to do."
Daly confirmed that the Coyotes have made their desire to host an outdoor game known. In a speculative sense, Daly likely wouldn't have mentioned the franchise by name if they had no chance of landing a game. LeBlanc stated that a Coyotes outdoor game would be held at Chase Field (the Arizona Diamondbacks' stadium) or University of Phoenix Stadium. Both venues have domes, which would act as insurance plans if the weather was uncooperative on game day.
Of course, given the NHL's strategic scheduling of outdoor games around major events (games at Yankee Stadium around the 2014 Super Bowl and an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium the Saturday before the Grammys), Chase Field seems like the more likely home of an outdoor game in 2015.
However, no confirmation has been made about the Phoenix market definitively getting a game. The same can not be said of the Winnipeg Jets, as the franchise has been given confirmation that it will host the Heritage Classic in the near future. Jets chairman Mark Chipman stated that the league and team have agreed to an outdoor game at Investor Group Field in Winnipeg
The organization is hoping to do it in 2016 to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the franchise returning to the league, via the Winnipeg Free Press:
"The NHL has confirmed to me they are going to do an outdoor game in Winnipeg. I don't have a specific date to announce but it would be our preference that we do it in the 2015-16 season. The date hasn't been confirmed but our preference is to do it then. The league's commitment to doing an outdoor game in our city is fantastic. It's something we've been talking about for some time and it's part of a significant strategy to do outdoor games and it will be great to be a part of it. We just have to firm up some details and hopefully we'll have a date to announce fairly soon."
While some argue the novelty of the outdoor extravaganza has subsided, the development of the outdoor slate has enabled the NHL to deliver a personalized experience to regional markets. While Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have competed in multiple games, there are plenty of franchises and fan bases who haven't had that experience.
Now, they'll have a chance and the NHL will have an opportunity to promote their game beyond the confines of a few months from April to June. For a league that is often criticized for its inability to properly promote itself, the outdoor series is a brilliant brand development that could be the first of many new endeavors that ushers the NHL into a new era of promotional excellence.