It matters not that the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs are muddling through slightly disappointing seasons; the duo are clinging to the final play-off spots in the Eastern Conference.
The attraction when they face off on Wednesday will be the venue. The football stadium at the University of Michigan – known as the Big House – is expected to fill with more than 107,000 fans, the largest crowd to witness an ice hockey game.
It also will be the first of an explosion of outdoor games – six in all – that were scheduled this season after last year’s lockout, ostensibly as a “thank you” to fans who returned in force.
It does not hurt that past games have generated an estimated US$10 million (Dh36.7m) each in revenue, and that the participants welcome them as well.
“Anytime you get to play outdoors, it brings back a lot of memories,” the Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary told the Detroit News in a nostalgic nod to the ponds and outdoor rinks where most kids learn to play.
“Everyone who watched these games wants to be in one,” said the coach Bruce Boudreau, whose Anaheim Ducks will play the Los Angeles Kings in a January 25 game at baseball’s Dodger Stadium. “The players will be so amped up.”
Asked if he is concerned that so many outdoor games will threaten their unique quality, and thus their popularity, the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman responded with a quick “no” when promoting the Dodger Stadium event.
“There’s been an expansion of interest,” he said. “The emotion, the excitement for these games is off the charts.”
Mostly, he is right. This week’s game is sold out. The March 1 game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks at the 61,000-seat Soldier Field football stadium in Chicago sold out in 24 hours.
The two games scheduled at Yankee Stadium (57,000 capacity) on January 26 (New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils) and January 29 (New York Rangers v New York Islanders) are nearly sold out.
A capacity crowd of approximately 60,000 also is expected at BC Place in Vancouver when the Ottawa Senators play the Vancouver Canucks on March 2.
The sentiment, however, is not unanimous. Last week, the league decreased prices by $50 (from $249) for the Ducks-Kings game when sales lagged at 80 per cent of an estimated 54,000 tickets.
The outdoor craze began with a one-off idea for a game in Edmonton in 2003. The league revived the concept in 2008 and made it an annual event. There were two outdoor games in 2011.
Television ratings for the weather-be-damned games always spike, and the sales for the special-edition, “throwback” jerseys that each team wears also help turn these events into big moneymakers.
So far, “too much of a good thing” is just a rumour.