Photo of the NHL Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orachard Park, New York. 

Image Credit: Falling Heavens - Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The NHL has proven that outdoor hockey games are a winning idea. In fact, the outdoor games are perhaps part of the formula that has recently helped the NHL overthrow the NBA in terms of popularity in the United States. Hockey, after all, originated on frozen ponds where there were very few rules (hence, the fighting).

So once a year, it's nice for the NHL to pay homage to old time hockey with an outdoor game.  The trend began back in 2008 at New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills, where the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. The result was a 2-1 shootout victory for the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. Up until 2014, the inaugural game was the most attended Winter Classic game in the history of the series. Seeing outdoor hockey games played at classic venues like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field only added to the Winter Classic's appeal. 

Beginning in 2014, Commissioner Bettman also introduced and coordinated the "Coors Light Stadium Series", a lineup which featured two outdoor games at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium in LA and an outdoor game at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. Also on the menu was an outdoor game played on March 2, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia between the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators. Did all of this seem like a good bit of overkill? Yeah, we thought so too. 

For the initial 6 years, NHL fans knew to expect a single game right on or around New Year's Day in which they could watch two of the NHL's elite (often Original 6 teams) go at it. I myself would often ponder what other potential matchups NHL fans could expect to see in coming years for future Winter Classics. 

Tickets for many of the outdoor games were overpriced, selling out initially on the primary market but the excess inventory on websites like Stubhub quickly dropped in price. The threat of snow also drove down the ticket prices for the Chicago Blackhawks - Pittsburgh Penguins matchup at Soldier Field, an element NHL fans never have to worry about in their home arenas. On the day off the Winter Classic, tickets for the upper portion of Michigan Stadium were still in excess of $200 for each ticket. 

None of the Stadium Series' TV ratings were able to rival that of the Winter Classics of past years. Though, they didn't set any records, they were still pretty solid for the Stadium Series' first go around. The Penguins-Blackhawks Stadium Series finale drew a rating of 2.1, the highest non Winter Classic game in NBC's history. According to press, Commissioner Gary Bettman and other NHL officials wanted the outdoor games being promoted both going into and after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia which I can respect. He also wanted additional regular season exposure for hockey on major networks like NBC and ESPN. With that said, there are no plans to schedule as many outdoor games in coming years which is just the way NHL fans seem to like it. One game outdoors each season is good enough and sets distinction. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 


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