Florida Panthers: When Will the Stadium Series Make its Way Down South?

One issue that has been anticipated by Floridians is when the NHL Stadium Series could make its way down south.

Since 2008, the NHL has expanded outdoor games a lot more than before. The events, usually nationally televised on NBC, are great for media expansion for the league and do very well in attendance.

The most recent outdoor game, February’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, sold over 69,000 tickets and scored 1.96 million viewers on NBC.

Even Canada has recently expanded outdoors for the Heritage Classic, a matchup between two Canadian teams that score around 25-40 thousand tickets sold in smaller venues to honor players from past renditions of the team. Those games are broadcast on TSN, and receive around 3 million viewers on “Hockey Night in Canada.”

The events have stretched all across the United States and have had great outcomes at each game. The games have taken place in football stadiums, such as Lincoln Financial, Soldier Field, and Heinz Field.

There have been games at the iconic baseball stadiums of Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and Fenway Park, as well as Citi Field, Nationals Park, and Coors Field.

There have even been games at college stadiums, including Ann Arbour’s “Big House” Michigan Stadium, South Bend’s Notre Dame Stadium, and to-be Falcon Stadium, the home of Air Force Academy.

Next season’s outdoor games focus on expanding to newer places. Mosaic Stadium, which houses 33,350, will be Saskatchewan’s first outdoor game as the Jets host the Flames.

The NHL rings in 2020 in Dallas, Texas, at the Cotton Bowl, as the Stars and Predators will rematch following their first-round series last season.

Finally, the Stadium Series expands to Colorado for the second time in Air Force’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs as the Avalanche play host to the Kings.

So, how can the Florida Panthers (and Tampa Bay Lightning) convince Gary Bettman and the NHL to play an outdoor hockey game in the Sunshine State?

While everybody may jump right to “the weather” being the reason why an outdoor game can’t be played in Florida, it’s not the biggest problem.

2014’s Stadium Series featured a game at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, in which temperatures were a high of 80 during the game.

It tends to be cooler in January nights in Florida, so the weather isn’t what’s holding the NHL back from approving this.

For starters, both teams need to be strong. When the events are scheduled, the matchups always appear to be big games, teams that people want to watch.

With Tampa Bay winning the President’s Trophy last season with the league MVP and league’s best goalie (at least, according to the NHL Awards), Tampa Bay will begin to gain more national coverage.

This season, the Panthers could receive a lot of media coverage as well. With a Hall of Fame coach re-emerging, and young stars in Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad, along with a new shiny all-star goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, the Cats could be dark horses in the 2019-20 season.

Most importantly, the Panthers need to prove that they have an active fanbase to the NHL. We all might have been to sell-out games at the BB&T Center, but we all know the truth, it isn’t the norm.

The NHL isn’t going to grant a nationally televised game if there are fears it won’t sell out, even if the cameras don’t show the crowd as regularly as in NHL arenas.

The idea would likely boom with media if the event was a success. Imagine waking up on New Year’s Day of 2021 playing outdoor hockey in the hottest state in the USA, between two in-division rivals both striving for the top. That’s a thought that would attract millions, no?

Finally, there would be a place that needs to house this idea. If the Panthers do play Tampa Bay, playing the game in Tampa would work just as well, with cooler temperatures on the western part of Florida.

Raymond James Stadium, which holds over 65,000, has played host to the Super Bowl and the College Football Playoff Final and would be the logical place to play. Tampa Bay also did a very good job at hosting the All-Star Game back in 2018, so the NHL may want to return there.

If the game is played in South Florida as a Panthers home game, there are two spots that could be fun for a game. With the NHL showing they’re willing to play in retractable roof stadiums such as AT&T Stadium, Marlins Park could be a decent shot.

Marlins Park plays host to baseball but will play host to football this coming fall as the Miami Hurricanes will play at Florida International. If that event works, the NHL may look to explore playing in the 36,000-plus stadium.

The more eccentric option is playing at Hard Rock Stadium, home of NCAA Football’s Miami Hurricanes and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

The stadium has been recently renovated in the last two seasons to shade over most of the seating and has played host to football, soccer, and baseball. The football stadium would have a better design for a hockey rink and would have the sun shining down on the players if played during the day.

While the event seems almost impossible to actually happen, there could be a Stadium Series game in Florida sooner than possible if the Panthers have success, not just on the ice, but in marketing as well.