If you watched the NHL’s fifth annual Winter Classic in Philadelphia on January 2nd, you would not have been disappointed. The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers both played a hard-fought game, the ending was terrific, and there was just enough controversy to keep hockey fans talking after the final horn. In short, it was another perfect demonstration by the NHL.
And if you are a Panther fan like pretty much everyone else that reads the site, you probably want in on this outdoor, nationally-televised game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that will be the case for now.
This kind of statement doesn’t seem like news, but a recent article in the Miami Herald by George Richards indicates that perhaps the Panthers could put on a full-court press to snag the game for South Florida:
Could Miami be in line to host an outdoor hockey game? Don’t laugh.Thanks to the new Marlins ballpark – and its retractable roof – ice making experts say an NHL game could be played ‘outdoors’ in South Florida. Will it ever come to pass? Well, that’s another story.
Richards does make some key points: we provide a sunshine and palm trees atmosphere that no other hockey town can match, we have a retractable roof in the New Marlins Stadium that could facilitate the game despite the heat, and we have a great possible Sunshine State matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But there are a few intangibles that make this sort of scenario more than unlikely. I wouldn’t put it against Dale Tallon and his Panther management friends to pull some strings within the NHL to land a game down here, but it won’t come soon for a number of reasons.
First, the Florida Panthers just aren’t mainstream enough to land the game. It’s tough to say, but the Panthers just don’t have the attention of the worldwide hockey market right now to justify hosting the game. Looking back at past Winter Classic matchups, the teams either had huge markets, international superstars, or legendary venues, and some teams had some combination of those attributes. The Panthers don’t have any of those right now.
Our team is still struggling to make money compared to the rest of the league: the Panthers were 27th in the league in ticket revenue last year (this year’s statistics are surely higher, but still not high enough to put up a fight with the big teams).
The Panthers best player right now is Stephen Weiss, and he isn’ t exactly a superstar by the league’s standards, no matter how solid of a player he is.
To top it all off, the New Marlins Stadium will be gorgeous and a great place to watch baseball, but it still hasn’t established itself as a premier stadium yet. It doesn’t hold a candle to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.
Second, our local markets do well enough financially hosting Super Bowls, Orange Bowls, and the occasional BCS Championship Game or Pro Bowl. South Florida is one of the biggest tourist spots in the world, and our hotels, bars, and restaurants are jam-packed every year around New Years’ Day hosting football. It would be gluttonous for the region’s industries to take all the money. Plus, the Winter Classic would have to compete with those other events, making it tougher for it to grab hold of South Florida’s attention.
Compare that to the current leader in the clubhouse for hosting the Classic, Detroit. The downtown area is in desperate need for tourism money, as the city is going through a massive PR problem; Chrysler commercials can only do so much to help Detroit. Another plus for the city is that Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has plenty of connections within the NHL (his push for conference realignment is an example of that). He owns the Tigers’ Comerica Park, a possible location for the game, or the NHL could play the game in Michigan Stadium of Ann Arbor and absolutely shatter attendance records for a game.
Lord knows, the entire state of Michigan could use the money that South Florida earns hosting all these games.
Finally, it doesn’t look like the rest of the league is particularly earnest to tackle the challenge of creating an acceptable playing surface in South Florida. When asked about which city would host the next Winter Classic, Gary Bettman said,
“I don’t know where we’re going next year. If you eliminate the warmer climates, we’re not going to a place where we’ve been.”
Based on that quote, it seems like Bettman does not want to worry about 80 degree weather possibilities when planning the next game. He went so far as to eliminate those cities that qualify right away. Whether he can be persuaded otherwise has yet to be seen.
But some people might say, “but what about that game in Las Vegas with Wayne Gretzky?” Well, that was a preseason game with nothing at stake, and millions of revenue dollars were not up to be lost. I’m sure the NHL will pocket the safe money hosting a game in below-freezing weather over an off-kilter game in Downtown Miami.
Well, hopefully the Panthers can get in on the Winter Classic phenomenon at some point, and I think we will eventually. This game is here to stay: the fans and players both love it, and the materials are available to play it all over the continent. But right now, the NHL won’t mess with their winning formula. Play it cold this year, but we’ll see later if the Panthers can cash in for some other time.
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