UK Can Host Own Winter Classic

Today saw the VHL (Russian 2nd tier) host its Russika Klassika, its version of the NHL’s winter classic. The game played in Kraysnoyarks comes just over a week since it was made official that the 2013 NHL winter classic will take place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbour where the largest ever attendance is expected at The Big House for the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Outdoor hockey has become increasing popular with the NHL going to host it’s sixth edition and outdoor games have been played in the AHL, KHL, NCAA and ElitSerien creating massive exposure not only in ice hockey but in general sports as well. So perhaps now is the time for the Elite League to follow suit and host its own version.

There are some hurdles to get over but they are less than you might think. From a technical point of view an ice rink would be easy to construct at any location with temporary ice rinks now a common sight across the UK at Christmas in town centres.

A location is harder to pin down. There are many stadiums that are versatile enough to host such an event but soccer teams use these over the winter. However there is Murrayfield in Edinburgh, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and of course Wembley, although these grounds are probably a little bit big for an ice hockey game in this country.

But a ground could be picked depending on the teams being involved and in order to have a big interest and big attendance it could realistically only be the Sheffield Steelers and the Nottingham Panthers. Mainly because they both have fans that travel in numbers and the rivalry between has become electric. As for a location in Nottingham or Sheffield it is hard to see beyond Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield.

Don Valley is across the road from Ice Sheffield who could supply the rink, it is close to where the Sheffield Steelers already play and most importantly it will be available for sometime before the event with Rotherham United soccer team due to move out at the end of the current soccer season. This venue could lead to a longer event with a roses game between the Sheffield Steeldogs and the Manchester Phoenix preceding the main event.

The downside could be the Sheffield weather though. Whilst the temperature on say Boxing Day would be cold enough it might also be raining rather than snowing and this is the problem. The rain would provide a dangerous playing surface and could prove to make the game a wash out which would be terrible for the publicity.

The major snag however is the cost. Not only in hosting such an event but also in the profit the Steelers could lose out on by not having a full arena. It would be hoped that the later would be offset by the increased publicity leading to more fans but whom and how the hosting costs would be accounted for is a different matter.

Of course ticket prices would account for some of the price and hopefully sponsorship and advertising would also cover the costs but both rely on high amounts and maybe even a television deal as well.

There is no doubt that outdoor games have caught the imagination of hockey fans around the world. In many countries they have managed to recreate the atmosphere of cup final. It is true that in the UK as well there is a buzz around the NHL’s Winter Classic and as the UK has the capacity to host an outdoor game shouldn’t it be attempted.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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