Regardless of whether or not you like them, the outdoor games popping up each year are good for both the NHL and its players.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly appeared on Prime Time Sports Monday to discuss the polarizing outdoor games that have been occurring more frequently each year, the most recent of which was Saturday night’s Stadium Series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.
“By in large, almost universally, [the players are] supportive,” said Daly. “They really enjoy the experience of playing in that kind of environment in that kind of atmosphere in front of those fans. It energizes their game and it can create a nice diversion from one of your normal, run-of-the-mill NHL games in an arena.
“They’re also very valued to our sponsors, which I think is important at the end of the day — both for the league and for the players.”
Despite the benefit of the outdoor spectacles to the league, the most prominent of the games, the Winter Classic, has been suffering in recent years. The most recent edition, between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, hit the fourth-straight record low in viewership, and the event has only been going on for the last 10 years.
Notwithstanding, the declining numbers aren’t yet a problem, especially when compared to indoor, regular-season games.
“Those ratings are still higher than we typically get on national TV broadcasts,” he said. “They continue to be an appeal for our rights holders but also our fans.“
A common criticism of the events has been the role that the environment plays on the result of the game.
The Leafs-Capitals game was almost postponed to the following day due to extremely strong gusts of wind. However, after, the league decided that the weather “was not going to be a game-determining factor”, the two teams played the game as scheduled in winds that may have seemed to be more disruptive by those in attendance than they actually were.
“The field level was a little bit below ground level … they didn’t get the full brunt of the wind that you did higher up in the stadium,” Daly said. “It was about 10 mph less in terms of wind gusts on the stadium floor than it was up in the stands.”
As for the future of the events, they appear to be sticking around, for now.
“I think it continues to be a year-to-year evolution of what we want to do with the outdoor games,” said Daly. “They are still an incredible vehicle for us to appeal to both our existing fans but also to draw new eyeballs.
“They continue to be an appeal for both our rights holders [and] our fans. What I’ve come to realize when I go to these games is that each one is a little bit different … It’s a big-time event, [with] a big-time feel and I think the fans have really embraced it.”