The NHL isn’t satisfied with the return of the Winter Classic – not even a rescheduled match-up between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, expected to draw a record crowd of more than 110,000 to Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day.
The League wants more. It thinks the fans want more. And so it could hold multiple outdoor games in the United States as soon as next season, raising revenues and the sport’s profile in more markets.
“It’s not necessarily a new conversation,” NHL chief operating officer John Collins said after a Winter Classic news conference at Joe Louis Arena. “We’ve been looking at this and talking about it for a while. But I think now we’re looking at it real hard.”
The Fourth Period reported the NHL is close to a deal for a game featuring the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium. Player agent Allan Walsh tweeted the deal was done and the game likely would take place on Hockey Day in America.
The Fourth Period also reported the NHL has been discussing a deal for a game featuring the New York Rangers and would prefer it to be played at Yankee Stadium. Writer Dave Pagnotta hinted at a Hockey Day in America doubleheader.
Collins and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman declined to give details. Collins said league officials were discussing ideas with the Board of Governors, individual teams and the NHL Players’ Association.
Asked specifically about the report of a game Dodger Stadium, Collins said: “It’s accurate from the standpoint of, we’re always looking at stuff. We have another finance committee meeting this week. So we’re laying out a lot of plans.”
The NHL has staged multiple outdoor games only once before, when it held the Heritage Classic in Calgary and the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh in 2011. It has never staged multiple outdoor games in the United States before. There is an obvious concern, but the NHL sees enormous potential.
“There are people who say you’ll dilute what is a good, special thing,” Collins said. “No one would be more concerned about not screwing up a good thing than we would be.”
The Winter Classic has been wildly successful – from attention to attendance to merchandising. Collins said the Winter Classic – one regular-season game – generates 40-60 percent of the merchandising revenue that a market like Boston or Chicago generates when it wins a Stanley Cup.
Teams that have not been involved in the Winter Classic want to be involved in one. Teams that have already been involved in the Winter Classic want to be involved in another one and don’t want to wait years for another turn.