The novelty of the Winter Classic has officially worn off for the National Hockey League, but the draw is still there, so it is a tradition that will likely continue. The Buffalo Sabres launched the series at Ralph Wilson Stadium against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a true winter wonderland with cold weather, snow, and all the drama of a shootout marred by the weather.
The league has since proven it can – and will put an order door game in any market, battling the 60 degree temperatures in California last year to pit the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks outdoors.
With the outdoor games now featured as The Heritage Classic, The Winter Classic, and the expanded Stadium series – what will it take to get the Buffalo Sabres featured once again in a league wide event that attracts national attention?
Unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres – there is a lot working against them to host the event in the near future.
Buffalo Sabres Lack of Star Power
The Buffalo Sabres have zero star power to showcase for a nationally televised game. In 2008 the roster was still showing signs of potential, talent, and playoff hope. With a team full of third and fourth liners – there is little marketability for the league to showcase the home team in Buffalo. Certainly the league could bring in any number of teams as the visitors to boost that star power market for NBC – but you really should have a hometown star to showcase, and a rivalry – even if forced. In 2008 it was Sidney Crosby vs Ryan Miller.
Despite being a poorly built team currently – there are plenty of regional rivals that the NHL could use to make the event more worthwhile, but the league should have considered that for the 2008 opponent as well. A Buffalo-Boston/Toronto/Montreal series is much more historically based in rivalry than a Buffalo/Pittsburgh game.
Give the Buffalo Sabres three to five years before their roster is one that the NHL looks at to support an outdoor game bid.
Location, Location Location
What was the NHL seeking for the first Winter Classic? A hockey market, a winter wonderland and a boat load of revenue from ticket sales. Enter in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance at Ralph Wilson for a hockey game was 71,217. No Winter Classic has even come close to that except the 2011 game at Heinz Field which was still 3100 seats short, and the 2014 game which eclipsed the mark by almost combining the Buffalo and Fenway Park attendances.
The league knows it is going to make money regardless if the stadium seats 70,000 or more like football stadiums, or the smaller baseball venues.
It doesn’t have to set attendance records anymore, and I highly doubt the league will see another attendance figure like they saw in Michigan. What the NHL is looking for as far as venues is location and picturesque stadiums.
What do fans want when it comes to a new football stadium? How about something that will be multi-purposed for the area, and not sit idle for more than eight games a year? For it to work for the Winter Classic – it also has to be an outdoor stadium, or at least have a retractable roof.
The new Buffalo Bills stadium, if there will be one, has been rumored to be planned for several different areas.
Not all of those areas exist in a place that would make the National Hockey League drool over putting in an outdoor game on the schedule.
On the waterfront seems to make the most sense – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be downtown. The Southtowns are close enough to Buffalo on a clear day you can see the Buffalo skyline from the waterfront of the Southtowns. Given the “winter” of the winter classic, that downtown view might not be available unless its a clear crisp winter day.
The Buffalo Bills are not going to be considering the Buffalo Sabres single use of the stadium when it comes time to drop a stadium on to a plot of land.
That is just a small sample of the opinions on the topic from the boys at Buffalowdown – I am sure as the discussion heats up there will be more.
Downtown, waterfront, and even Niagara Falls are prime spots for a new Buffalo Bills stadium that will benefit the Buffalo Sabres in the long run.
There are other options to explore for an outdoor venue, but none that carry the same ticket base – UB Football stadium comes close, but the Buffalo Bills are closer to getting a new stadium, as the NHL might want to wait until the 2020 expansion of UB Stadium to feature two NHL teams there.