Bettman: NHL has ‘started focusing’ on Blue Jackets outdoor game

Fans fill Ohio Stadium as Ohio State takes on Akron in 2011. (Amy Sancetta/AP)

The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of eight teams that still hasn’t played in an outdoor game but new comments from commissioner Gary Bettman suggest that could change soon.

“It’s obvious that the team is competitive, that they’re playing exciting hockey, that the fans are reacting in positive ways,” Bettman said Tuesday at Kraft Hockeyville USA in Clinton, N.Y. “It’s even at the point where, internally – we’re not there yet – we have started focusing on the possibility of an outdoor game. So, we view Columbus as a great success story.”

The most likely destination for a Blue Jackets outdoor game would be at Ohio Stadium, the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes which has a capacity for 102,082 fans. “The Shoe” is located less than five miles from Nationwide Arena where the Blue Jackets play their home games.

“There’s a big football stadium there, last time I checked,” Bettman joked. “We’ve put on 24 outdoor games. I think we kind of know what’s involved and we’re excited to see how well Columbus is doing.”

“We’ve been talking about it internally,” Bettman added. “I don’t know that we’ve done a site survey yet. I don’t think so. But it’s on our radar screen to go to places we haven’t been. We talk about all these things all the time … we’re constantly thinking about and brainstorming and hypothesizing lots of things.”

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While the project is very much in the early stages, Blue Jackets fans should still be excited to hear Bettman say their team is being considered.

Smaller market teams like the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, and Florida Panthers have routinely been passed over for these events by larger markets like the Pittsburgh and Chicago. But with the Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning emerging as winning teams, it only makes sense that the NHL would consider going to new markets for an outdoor showcase.

Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said he would love to have his team play in an outdoor game. Tortorella was behind the bench in 2012 when the New York Rangers played outside at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia against the Flyers.

“I’ve [been] in one and they’re a blast,” Tortorella said. “You know how I feel about the City of Columbus. I don’t think we get respect. We’re trying to fight for that. For us to be mentioned or involved in all those games, I think would be great for the city and great for the team and help us keep progressing.”

The Blue Jackets have hosted other NHL events in the past, including the all-star game in 2015. Bettman said the positive fan reaction from that event reflects well on the club when the league is considering who to feature in outdoor games.

“We had a great all-star game [in 2015]. We see the fan reaction. We see the road games. We see the building full,” Bettman said. “These are things we keep track of, but we keep track of these things for all 31 teams – and we like what we’re seeing.”


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