The 2012 NHL Winter Classic between my New York Rangers and their rival Philadelphia Flyers will be played on January 2nd at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Today while browsing Facebook, I learned that from December 31 through January 2nd , the NHL will have a “Spectator Plaza” set up outside of the ballpark.
In theory , the spectator plaza is a wonderful idea. It draws fans that are going to the Alumni game on December 31st and the Winter Classic to the ballpark early. It has a “fan fest” type feel with games, autograph sessions, etc. Then I looked closer and saw that the plaza closes at 1pm on January 2nd. The Winter Classic game starts at 1pm. If you’re going to the game or not interested in the game at all , you probably think, “So what?”. Let me explain, in my opinion, what the problem is. I’ll start with a little back story.
In 2003, the Montreal Canadiens played the Edmonton Oilers in the first “Heritage Classic.” I said to myself, “If the Rangers were to ever play in something like this…I am there!” Fast forward almost 10 years later and there’s an announcement prior to the 2011-2012 NHL season that the Rangers will be facing the Flyers in Philadelphia. Finally! My Rangers will be playing in the Winter Classic!
As soon as I heard this news, I started to have serious talks with my friend Megan about taking her son to the game. Much to our dismay, we soon discovered it will be nearly impossible to get tickets for face value and tickets on the secondary market are about half a month’s rent. Sadly, I just can’t afford to go. We have spoken about tailgating with friends and then going somewhere to watch the game in the city, as well as entering every contest possible to win tickets.
Today, I read about the NHL’s planned Winter Classic Spectator Plaza. GREAT! Maybe we could actually tailgate with friends and then stick around for the game itself and watch from outside the ballpark. One would think that an area called a “Spectator Plaza” would include a viewing area for the game itself. Unfortunately and surprisingly, this is not the case. The plaza closes right before the game begins.
Closing the spectator plaza when the game starts represents a huge missed opportunity for the NHL both in terms of potential revenues and development of fan goodwill. I visited Italy during the 2006 World Cup. In every city, piazzas had screens set up where the public could go and view the matches. It was a fabulous idea and a fun way to watch matches.
Here’s an idea for the NHL. Rope off an area, set up high tops (tables), move some concessions over, charge $20 and let people watch the game right outside the ballpark. Don’t want to do that? Ok, just set up a screen and let people watch for free. There are people who would do that (i.e., me, and many other hockey fans). I believe the NHL is really missing a great marketing opportunity. Want to make hockey more accessible to the masses? Here’s your chance! Show the game on the big screen and have alumni out during the intermission to chat with fans. A Q&A with fans could be a huge success. This can’t be a logistical issue, since security and vendors are already in place.
I am sure there are people reading this saying, what if it’s 20 below? What if it’s snowing? Here’s my answer. If people are willing to go to the game and deal with the elements, why wouldn’t they stand outside and deal with the same elements? I would. I know many other fans that would. Oh, and NHL…those fans would also then purchase additional merchandise.
This could be a tremendous opportunity. The NHL is missing the point.