The atmosphere outside the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium was electric. Fans from all over were getting into the spirit of the game, intermingling in the parking lot tailgates, helping each other gets lasting memories of their time at an outdoor event, and some making a weekend out of it like some Toronto fans who watched the Raptors/Wizards Friday and went to the Stadium Series game on Saturday. It was an amazing time.
From the time they stepped onto the ice– especially with the Maple Leafs glowing white jerseys against an off-white ice, the fine faithful of both teams found were bouncing around– probably to stay warm. With the midshipmen “manning the rails” of the aircraft carrier that surrounded the rink, to the fans interacting with the anthems, to the F/A-18F Super Hornets going overhead, the pomp and circumstance matched the excitement.
With the Capitals getting out to an early lead and keeping it throughout helped the fans stay happy in the frigid, windy temperatures, as well as a power outage at the 10-minute mark of the third period. The players seemed unaffected as well– especially with the ice, which many Capitals players were saying was the best home-ice they’ve played on this season.
“It was a blast, it was really fun,” mentioned Matt Niskanen post-game. “The conditions were great. I don’t think the wind was a factor, the ice was great. Even with the lights going out, the fans were still singing and having fun. It was a great experience of everyone. We’ll remember this one.”
But let’s not let the joy go all to our heads on this one.
There’s plenty to clean-up, especially since there were only 29,516 in attendance, which is the lowest of all-time in outdoor games. Could this be the luster finally wearing off?? I don’t think so– many people who had been to outdoor games before were happy enough to be there. Some claim apathy of giving a team extra money for tickets when they haven’t been past the second round in a dog’s age.
Another factor could have been the lack of advertising to the general populous. Many people I’ve talked to around town didn’t even know there was an outdoor game going on. There wasn’t a sign to be seen, wasn’t a promotion to be found in the area– which may not have made it a total sell-out, but could have peaked interest enough for people to talk about it and then maybe buy up the last tickets to be a part of something unique to the area for once.
Then you get to the game, which was covered as well as you’re going to cover it when all the hurdles were in the way. Yet, when NBC, the EXCLUSIVE rights holders to the NHL in the US, cuts away from the game to put it on NBCSN because they need to get to local news and then Saturday Night Live. There’s only three more years left in this deal with the NHL and NBC and maybe– just maybe– the NHL can look at this happening constantly to the NHL on NBC (remember the Senators/Sabres/Kentucky Derby fiasco??) and perhaps either get a better deal elsewhere or write a better contract to make sure they doesn’t keep constantly happening.
And let’s not forget the timing of the game– March. It’s after the trade deadline, right in the sprint to the playoffs and you’re putting two big points up there and hoping Mother Nature cooperates. Luckily– outside of the wind– it did for this one, but the later these outdoor games keep happening, the more risky it gets for things being postponed and such. There was worries that this game would have been pushed to Sunday– which would have been hell for the Caps, who were to fly out on Monday for their last west coast trip.
I understand there’s a lot of consideration that goes into these bids and there’s a lot of gaps that had to be filled. I’m thankful the NHL was able to have a game in Maryland for the first time since November 1997 (RIP Capital Centre), but it could have been so much more around the area if more effort was put in it to promote this game– not just in the area, but around the NHL. Just because you do an advertising blitz on the NHL Network a week out from the game doesn’t mean you did all you could to hype it up.
But to the fans out there– thank you for making the game a success to me. The energy, the reactions, the fact you were out in the elements and enjoying every minute of it was awesome to see and awesome to take part in.
Despite it being the lowest attendant outdoor game since the format started. Despite NBC cutting the National coverage with four minutes to go in the game. Despite the wind, despite the power outage, despite the timing of the game in the year, despite the advertising– or lack thereof. The fans made the atmosphere better for it. The NHL needs to realize this and maybe start listening more attentively to them when they speak up on topics to better the league.