If the NHL's plan was to get NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider into a half dozen alumni games in three months, the stadium series they're reportedly planning to announce for 2013-14 has to be seen as a failure. As a former member of the Red Wings, Ducks, Rangers, Islanders, and Canucks, among other teams, if each of the six outdoor affairs is preceded by an alumni game, Schneider could lace up in nearly every single one.
But only nearly -- only five of six. He never played for the Penguins or Blackhawks, so if there's an alumni game at Soldier Field, he won't be in it. Way to blow it, NHL.
Of course, it's probably safe to say the league wasn't thinking of Schneider when they put their reported plan together. Don't be silly. They were thinking about money.
Which is why I hate this plan.
Now, there's no doubt that this is going to be a successful series and the NHL is going to make a fortune. People love outdoor games, and it's tough to have serious concerns about the novelty wearing off when the league is hosting outdoor games in six places they've never hosted one before. That's novel enough.
For that reason, and also because outdoor games are inherently cool (although not literally, since last January 25 in LA, the high was 19 degrees Celsius, 66 degrees Fahrenheit), these games are going to be successes. They're going to be a lot of fun, too. I'll definitely attend the one at BC Place, and I'm sure I'll even be able to overlook the fact that calling a game at BC Place with the roof open an "outdoor game" is like calling a trip in a limousine with an open sunroof an "outdoor car ride".
But I'm still going to hate them, because, like the lockout shortened season during which this plan will be announced, the whole thing is tainted by the league's soulless and shameless pursuit of money.
The Winter Classic has always been a cash grab, a chance to snuggle with the sponsors, to sell 10 times as many tickets as usual, and to trot out some special event merchandise that will dance off the shelves like 'N Sync dolls come to life. This much we know. But it was still possible to enjoy all the good things about the event despite this because, in the back of our minds, we also knew that it was possible for the league to make the event even more blatantly about separating fans from their money.
Say, for instance, if they did it six times a year.
That's the issue here. Six outdoor games dilutes the brand by eroding the specialness of the Winter Classic, but not just by flooding the market with similar, less special events to follow it. It's also the way that it underscores the cynical cash-grab aspects of the whole thing.
It's as though, instead of hiding five golden tickets in his chocolate bars, Willy Wonka hid 5000. It's not quite the same movie then (especially since 4,999 kids disappearing in Wonka's factory makes the movie very, very different). It's not nearly as big a deal when Charlie Bucket finds one, for one thing, plus it feels a lot less like a momentous occasion and a lot more like a cheap ploy to sell box after box of candy bars.
"No one would be more concerned about not screwing up a good thing than we would be," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said after a Winter Classic press conference in early April. But what he failed to say, and what the league is tacitly saying now with this impending announcement, is that their concern was exclusively bottom-line driven.
All that said, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the NHL has watered down their brand in a bid to get more money. Again: that's why we're only playing 48 games this year.
For the opposing opinion on why bigger is better, here's Nick Cotsonika's take.