Why the Nashville Predators Should Not Seek Stadium Games

By: Miranda Martin

Now that we’ve all settled down from a week of crazy outdoor games, including the non-hockey annihilation Sunday night, let’s talk stadiums.

Ever since the LA Kings teamed up with Dodger stadium to bring an NHL outdoor game to an 80 degree balmy Los Angeles, many are wondering what teams should get it next year. Nashville fans (and certainly the franchise) have been curious about the idea, and last week Glenn Healy of Hockey Night in Canada gave Nashville a nod as a great location.

The LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks outdoor game (or, as I’ve been calling it, “The Battle of the Smog”) almost felt surreal, as green grass surrounded a sloshy ice surface (that I’m sure the pyrotechnic’s of the KISS stage didn’t help.) The game commentators complimented the ice technology, as they were able to prevent the 118 degree boards from completely melting the ice surface, which, while incredibly impressive, could have been significantly dangerous if anything went wrong. Not even 12 hours later, the New York Rangers set off against the New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium for the second outdoor game of the weekend. Finally, it looked like an outdoor game! They even had to delay because of… ice glare? At least it was below freezing. As if the fans hadn’t had enough of the outdoors, the Rangers had ANOTHER game 3 days later in the same location, but against the Islanders. While pitting New York vs. New York seemed like a good rivalry idea, having an outdoor game on NBC Sports on a Wednesday night… it was to the point that no one really cared.

After the NHL Olympic break, fans will be met immediately with two more back-to-back Stadium Series games. The first is in Chicago, as the Blackhawks take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field March 1. Less than 24 hours later, the puck will drop at the BC Place in Vancouver, where the Canucks will take on the Ottawa Senators in the Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic. Until then, fans are left to ponder which teams will receive nods for outdoor games next year… and don’t expect Nashville to be on that final list.

“But why not Nashville?” you may ask. With a new baseball stadium coming, the Music City Center open, and a freaking Jamba Juice, Nashville is growing immensely and “deserves” a stadium series game, and I agree… to an extent. I’d love the revenue to benefit the local economy because it more than deserves it, but there are many factors going against the Nashville Predators:

1) Humidity -  It’s something Tennessee and my hair knows all too well, and would be a risky factor against any hockey game. Why Los Angeles could handle it is that the city heat was dry heat. It doesn’t matter if its 8 degrees or 80 degrees in Nashville—it will be humid. The Predators ownership recently put in new dehumidifiers inside the arena. You can’t put enough dehumidifiers outside! Rain and humidity has affected a Winter Classic game before. When the Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals at Heinz field in 2011, the ice surface was adversely affected. The game was postponed initially due to a post-rain haze that covered the ice surface.

2) Stadium Size/Attendance - It’s going to need a hell of a lot more than 17,000 to fill a stadium. At 40,000, the Vanderbilt Stadium may be a good place, but it is away from the downtown area and Bridgestone Arena. LP Field would be perfect distance from downtown Nashville, with the pedestrian bridge connecting downtown, but making the 67,000+ stadium full would take a lot of Nashville representation. Also, ticket prices will be insanely high, overpriced by the NHL, and many Predators fans traditionally don’t like to or can’t pay such large sums. In fact, many report that the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks ended up having to tank the prices to avoid an embarrassing attendance woe this year. Also, remember, we don’t like when other teams come to our turf (Yes, I’m a bitter Blackhawks fan. Sue me.)

3) Abuse of the Stadium Series by the NHL - Six Stadium Series games is just too much. It’s costly to the NHL, the fans, and the franchises, but the NHL will do whatever it takes to try to make a buck after the last lockout. Having so many stadium series games cheapens the experience. It also leads to distinct advantages in certain markets and potential embarrassments in others. By the end, everyone will be sick of them. But hey, at least we’ll have the commemorative jerseys that they only used

4) Boring hockey - The outdoor games usually lead to a slow-down in the actual hockey play. Even the best teams seem to play at a slower pace. The players must adjust to the elements, and the largeness of the arena will probably lead to many asking “where’s the puck?” Let’s face it, for half of this season, the Predators have been playing boring hockey. Slow that down even more, and add the casual fan who thinks they’re going to witness a huge game outside. It could actually turn fans away from the sport, and with the quiet “sell-outs” Nashville has had this season, that’s the last thing the franchise needs.

This year’s Winter Classic New Years Day brought the highest rating of any previous Winter Classic, and the 106,000-seat Michigan Stadium blew attendance records out of the water. And it was a magical experience to watch. So why cheapen it with five other games in a 2 month span? The Winter Classic should be a special event where the history of the NHL and the roots of hockey meet the modern market.

In fact, why can’t the Winter Classic just be… Classic? The NHL has something very special with 6 teams that have been around for 85+ years, with the history and roots to impress any casual fan. All six teams (Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York Rangers, Montreal, and Toronto) have seen recent success, and their markets are the most familiar to the non-hockey fan. It’s just asking someone who doesn’t like baseball to name a team—they’ll most likely say the Yankees or the Red Sox. Ask a non-hockey fan? It’s most likely going to be one of these 6 teams. Ratings would likely be high, and all of these cities have venues available for large outdoor games. For the HBO 24/7 series, it could easily continue for years, as teams change with trades and signings. Or they could do a special on the history of both teams, and let the 24/7 vary with different teams per season (opening up multiple television seasons).

With the trial of the stadiums this year, it will be interesting to see just what happens in the NHL’s future. Could we even see outdoor All-Star Games? Who knows. It’s whatever will make the NHL the most money. But, even though Nashville as a city is growing, it is not ready to be on the “outdoor games” list just yet. Let’s focus on getting an All-Star Game first.

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