Let’s begin this quickie blog with a caveat: it’s a long shot.
But…at least four NHL teams are investigating the possibility of playing home games in outdoor stadia if it will allow them to have fans in attendance.
Again, there are no guarantees in COVID times, “but it is being explored,” one executive said Wednesday.
None of the clubs would comment, but they are Anaheim, Boston, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. According to multiple sources, it was the Kings who first considered the idea several months ago. Owner Anschutz Entertainment Group also owns Dignity Health Sports Park, located 15 miles from the Kings’ home, Staples Center.
The primary tenant at Dignity is Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy. The stadium seats 27,000. At some point, the Kings informed the Ducks of the idea, and Anaheim was considering making this a joint venture.
The NHL doesn’t yet have an official start date for the 2020-21 season, and local rules would not allow Anaheim and Los Angeles to commit to this plan at this time. But, the Kings and Ducks are doing due diligence for somewhere down the road if they learned they would be allowed more fans at outdoor events than indoor ones.
The thought process is similar in Boston and Pittsburgh.
The Bruins have been in contact with state and city officials about different options. I had heard specific mention of Fenway Park, and was told that is in an “exploratory phase,” but it was stressed all venue options are being considered.
The Penguins have looked into both Heinz Field and PNC Park. (Major problem with Heinz Field: the Steelers may need it until late January.)
There are significant hurdles, starting with cost. Even the most no-frills outdoor event would run into the millions. Last month, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Athletic (via email), “It’s not likely (we’ll play more games outdoors),” as 2020-21 plans don’t “adequately take into account the costs associated.”
The other major issue would be approval from players and opponents. Apparently, a survey completed by all 31 teams indicated several would not be thrilled with the idea of switching between indoor and outdoor venues during the season.
That said, I can’t fault these four teams from researching the idea, attempting to maximize revenue in a league so dependent on gate revenue. If ever there was a season to try something, this is it.