In addition to huge profits, the NHL Winter Classic, Heritage Classic and Stadium Series games have succeeded in generating much discussion among both die-hard and casual hockey fans. While it’s safe to say we’ve reached consensus on one question – Are SIX outdoor games in one season too many? Of course! – another question remains open for debate: Where will next season’s outdoor games be held?
Washington has already been confirmed as host of the 2015 Winter Classic, though the venue is still up in the air. The number of outdoor contests beyond the Winter Classic remains a mystery, but this writer is putting his money on one Heritage Classic and two Stadium Series match-ups in the 2014-15 season.
The Heritage Classic features two Canadian teams, so I’d really like to see Edmonton at Winnipeg in a WHA-throwback game. Alternatively, the Flames could play the Jets at Atlanta’s Turner Field, sporting the uniforms those teams wore when they were based in that city (file this one under NOT GONNA HAPPEN, NOT EVER).
With twenty-three U.S.-based teams, the Stadium Series presents the league with many more options. Since Coors Light promotes the NHL Stadium Series as part of a seven-year, $375M sponsorship deal with the league, an outdoor game hosted by Coors’ hometown Colorado Avalanche will happen sooner, rather than later. Given Minnesota’s status as the “State of Hockey,” the Wild would seem a logical choice to host an outdoor game, and the Dallas Stars, known as the Minnesota North Stars from 1967-1993, would seem a logical choice as an opponent.
What about the Stars hosting an outdoor game? Following the success of the Kings-Ducks game at Dodger Stadium, the NHL is confident they can put on an outdoor game almost anywhere in the U.S. (though Gary Bettman voiced his concern about the high humidity in Florida). Word quickly spread that the Dallas Stars were interested in hosting a game at AT&T Stadium (aka “JerryWorld,” after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones). Stars team president Jim Lites reportedly said such a game wouldn’t take place before the 2015-16 season, with 2016-17 being a more realistic target. The truth is, even 2017 may be too soon, for two main reasons:
- Ticket sales could be a problem. The Stars currently rank 28th in the NHL in home attendance, drawing an average of 14,213 fans per game and filling the American Airlines Center to just 76.7 percent of capacity. In terms of capacity, only the Phoenix Coyotes draw less, at 76.6 percent. JerryWorld boasts 80,000 seats, with a total capacity of 105,000. Even Jim Lites has modest expectations, saying the Stars would hope to sell 70,000 tickets. At this point in time, I’d say Mr. Lites is dreaming. I say this as someone born and raised in Big D: Dallas is a city of perhaps ten thousand die-hard Stars fans and tens of thousands of bandwagon-jumpers who await the return of playoff success (the same could be said for the Mavericks and Texas Rangers). The Stars haven’t made the playoffs since their surprising run to the Western Conference Finals in the spring of 2008, and an entire generation of Dallas-area schoolkids is too young to remember Mike Modano & Co. hoisting the Stanley Cup back in ’99. The Stars need to string together a couple of good playoff runs before seriously considering an outdoor game. Fortunately, the team has a talented young core and is heading in that direction.
- Finding the right opponent could be a problem. Now that they’ve (mercifully) been moved out of the Pacific Division and into the Central, the Stars have to build new rivalries. The team has already begun to generate a healthy mutual animosity with the Blackhawks, but Dallas isn’t yet competitive with Chicago: so far this season, the Stars are 1-2-1 against the ‘Hawks, having been outscored, 16-9, in those games. Though they’re now in the Eastern Conference, the Hated Detroit Red Wings are a longstanding rival. The main problem with both the Blackhawks and Red Wings, though, is one of economics. Thanks to years of poor economic conditions up north and a superior economic/jobs climate in Texas, Dallas is FULL of transplanted Chicagoans and Michiganders. The Stars-Red Wings game in Dallas back on January 4 featured a sea of red jerseys in the lower bowl of the AAC and chants of “let’s go, Red Wings” which couldn’t be muffled by the outnumbered Stars fans in attendance. Do the Stars really want to host a nationally televised outdoor game in which 60-70 percent of the fans are cheering for the visiting team? At this point in time, though, Detroit or Chicago are the only opponents who would generate tickets sales in the 70,000 range, because of reason no.1.
Though it’s not a major concern, I have to wonder how the NHL’s outdoor ice would hold up to a North Texas winter. For those of you who don’t live in the Lone Star State, here’s what I mean: as I type this, snow is falling outside my window and today’s high will be 32. 48 hours from now, the high will be 60 degrees. Three days after that, the forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain and a high of 38. Yes, JerryWorld has a retractable roof, but it’s not an outdoor game if the roof is closed, right?
Based on the previous 850 words, you might think I’m opposed to the NHL bringing an outdoor game to Dallas. You would be wrong. It’s going to happen, and when it does, I’ll happily be there, but…not just yet.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926