National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman broached the notion of another outdoor NHL game next season, and one of the sites being considered is Chicagoâ€™s Wrigley Field. As reported by the AP, the 2008 New Years Day Outdoor Winter Classic contest, between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffaloâ€™s Ralph Wilson Stadium, drew a league-record 71,217 fans, and Bettman said that the Windy City is a logical site for another game next season.
The commissioner was careful to not commit to conducting the game in Chicago, as cities like New York, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and others, are also interested, but he did allow that, â€œAs we do these games in the future, obviously, Chicago will make a lot of sense.â€ The NHL wants to generate as much interest in these quirky, â€˜old schoolâ€™ matchups as possible, while not over-exposing them and risking ambivalence among the casual fans.
Why Wrigley? The stadium was the last in Major League Baseball to play at night, but could be the first to play host to the NHL if Blackhawks team president (and former Chicago Cubs president) John McDonough has his way:
"I had strong relationships with the Cubs for 25 years. Their ownership group and their organization are aware of our interest. We'll see where it goes. If we're fortunate enough to secure the game, we'll find out."
The major â€˜sentimentalâ€™ obstacle to a Wrigley hockey game could come from New York. All of the benefits of hosting an outdoor game in a baseball venue (sightlines, lack of competing use during the winter, historic tradition, etc.) could also be realized at Yankee Stadium, which is slated to be demolished and replaced with a new park. All things considered, though, it is the number 71, as in â€œ71,217â€ that will drive the NHL outdoors in the future.
Bill Johnson is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network