SUNRISE The NFL is taking a bold risk by staging the Super Bowl outdoors in New York in February 2014.
Why not hold an NHL Winter Classic in Miami’s Marlins Park with the roof open?
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been a staunch supporter of hockey in South Florida through the Panthers’ lean years of lousy play and shaky attendance. During Friday’s first playoff game here in 12 years, he lauded the franchise’s resiliency and fan loyalty, and said the future is bright.
But that apparently does not apply to outdoor hockey in South Florida. Bettman virtually melted hope of a Winter Classic next to the Clevelander pool -- even though the league once staged an exhibition in Las Vegas outside Caesar's Palace (video above).
“I think doing an outdoor game based in a warm climate, based on current climatic conditions and technology, is very difficult to be thinking about,” Bettman said. “They’d open the roof and it would be hot.”
On the contrary, the technology is adequate. Tampa has outdoor ice skating, a la New York’s Rockerfeller Center, from early November through Christmas. The Tampa Bay Lightning is one of the sponsors of Tampa’s annual Downtown on Ice.
The University of Central Florida has a 100-foot rink open for skating for 50 days outside its basketball arena as the centerpiece of the Light Up UCF holiday event (video below).
They are set up by Ice Rink Events, which has been building permanent and temporary outdoor rinks throughout the world for more than 30 years, in all climates. They put one in hot, smoggy Mexico City. They’ve done the Winter Classic for the NHL.
“There are some people who suggest that [BankAtlantic Center] is very cold when you’re in here. The reason is it is hard to keep the ice at the levels we need it to be,” Bettman said.
More likely he is concerned about the heat he would receive from the NHL’s traditional hockey markets in the Northeast and Canada if he agreed to set the sacred Winter Classic in the shadow of palm trees. Curious, considering he had just finished praising the benefits the league is receiving from teams in newer markets “making their own traditions.”
An NHL game outdoors in a hot climate has precedent. The Rangers and Kings played an outdoors exhibition in Las Vegas on Sept. 27, 1991. It was 85 degrees at game time. Maintaining the ice was a challenge, but the biggest problem was a barrage of grasshoppers getting stuck to it.
In Miami, the average temperature in January ranges from 59.5 to 75.6 degrees.
The holiday rinks in Tampa and at UCF are covered by tents. At Marlins Park, no sweat. Keep the retractable roof closed until game time, and start it late in the day.
The Marlins have already had to adjust the angle of the air-conditioning vents because fans complained it was blowing too cold on them. It shouldn’t be difficult to keep the ice playable for three hours.
Panthers President and COO Michael Yormark expressed interest when the possibility of the Winter Classic in Miami was raised in December. Bettman reacts to the notion as if it were something he wouldn’t want to step in.
A Panthers-Lightning match-up wouldn’t appeal to the league or television. But Panthers vs. an Original Six team such as the Rangers, Canadiens or Maple Leafs (all three have a sizable fan base relocated or wintering in South Florida) outdoors in Little Havana would seem an intriguing curiosity.
“It would be a novelty, but you have to remember the Winter Classic is two points that matter in the standings. For some teams, including one playing [Friday], those two points could have been all the difference in the world,” Bettman said, referring to the Panthers winning their division by two points.
“We don’t want to trivialize it.”
Seems an odd head-in-the-sand stance for a league hard-pressed to expand from a niche audience.
Perhaps Bettman just doesn’t want to have to watch the Red Grooms celebration sculpture with marlins spinning and flamingos flapping after every Panthers goal.