The annual tradition of taking the game outdoors for the NHL has lost it’s luster with the signature Winter Classic and Stadium Series games. The NHL Heritage Classic itself is practically an after thought.
In 2008, hockey fans were gifted the idea of a tradition. The game we all love taken to its roots back on the frozen “ponds” in the outdoors. The blistering cold scene of Ralph Wilson Stadium, showcased Sidney Crosby and in fitting fashion the game would end on his stick. From there, the fever of the Winter Classic skyrocketed.
After 7 Classics, the Stadium Series was born and the flood of outdoors games ensued. Back then, it was thought that the abundance of outdoor games would dull the luster of the event. The NHL itself had to catch on as they dropped the number of annual Stadium games down to 1.
Fast forward over 12 years later and now it seems without a doubt that games have indeed lost their luster. A perfect example is last night’s game in Nashville featuring the Predators hosting the back to back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The running joke on social media was the sheer amount of people, including those that cover the game for a living tweeting they had no idea the Stadium Series game was occurring.
A game featuring two non-traditional hockey markets that have become hockey hotbeds guided under the direction of Gary Bettman’s vision of growing the game and it wasn’t front and center? The lack of promotion was a missed opportunity to capitalize on the thriving of these markets, and to strengthen the TV branding.
While this would not have been much of a surprise under NBC as the coverage of NHL hockey was abysmal regardless of the channel, the lack of marketing this time around is surprising.
After years of dreadful coverage by NBC and NBCSN alike, the hope of moving to ESPN and NHL on TNT bringing in bigger exposure and strengthening the brand of the NHL has been a disappointment in many ways. Why the NHL has taken to shoving these games into the middle of a schedule and not featuring the game on its own is mind boggling.
The NHL announced the outdoor games, released the jerseys and then months of crickets beforehand until the puck drop. Had it not been for the running joke on Twitter or my Jet Blue flight having DirecTV I would have seen the recap and missed the action.
While I know it is easy to dunk on the NHL for their marketing woes let me also clarify and say the games themselves are still a boon for the local market. For the fans in attendance it is a must attend event. Being able to witness an outdoor game myself, there is nothing quite like it. The atmosphere, the conversion of a ballpark or stadium to a hockey rink, the amplified crowd is something else to experience.
The issue with the games is drawing interest from the out of town crowd or even the casual fan. The best and easiest way to do that is by drawing them in on a variety of media outlets and guiding their eyes to the TV set. By barely talking about the game, you cut out any anticipation or build up to the puck drop. By jumping on for a broadcast just before the game and run a seemingly slapped together feature about Nashville, it only does the game a disservice.
After the disappointing debacle in Lake Tahoe that should have been the game of all outdoor games, the NHL sorely needs to step up its marketing efforts in getting these games back on the front page of all hockey fans minds, not just those at the games.