The hockey rink inside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
The city of Los Angeles, Calif., only does sports one way: With all the glitz and glam worthy of Hollywood. So when it came to putting on an outdoor hockey game as part of the National Hockey League's Stadium Series, fans and viewers would expect nothing short of a show.
More than 54,000 fans came to Dodger Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, on Jan. 25 to see the Los Angeles Kings play the Anaheim Ducks under the lights.
What attendees and those watching on TV received was more than a 3-0 win by the Ducks – they also took in two songs by Rock n' Roll Hall of Famers KISS, who played their hit “Rock n' Roll All Nite” on top of a rising stage a few minutes before puck drop.
Fans were privy to an in-between periods live performance by the appropriately-named band Five For Fighting, which was backed by a NHL highlight video on the big board and former American Idol star Jordin Sparks singing the National Anthem.
“You want the game to be the centerpiece of everything and want everyone to understand the players are the performance,” said Jim Steeg of Steeg Sports Management and Media Consulting. “There's a balance you have to strike there because those entertainment acts are normally the show, but now they are a supporting cast.”
Steeg, who was vice president of Special Events for the National Football League for 26 years, assisted the NHL in its preparation for the Stadium Series game in Los Angeles and an upcoming outdoor game in Chicago.
Mixed in with the musical acts were some of the faces of L.A., including famed Dodgers announcer Vin Scully giving an introduction speech and the all-time greatest Kings player Wayne Gretzky waving to the crowd.
While a major aspect of putting on an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium was doing so like only L.A. can, another part was the NHL's continued efforts to grow hockey in the Southern and Western markets. Steeg said pushing the popularity of the game in those areas was a consideration when planning the event.
“You are really trying to broaden the base and draw attention,” he said. “Go back to the Super Bowl and the theories we had when we started a lot of the entertainment around that game. It's about getting more people to tune in and get excited about the sport.”
When the NHL announced it would put on six outdoor hockey games, there was some question of whether they would be watering down the product that had been wildly successful in the form of the New Year's Day outdoor game the Winter Classic. But the results have suggested fans keep wanting more.
According to NBC Sports, the Kings-Ducks match-up drew a 2.38 rating, the highest ever in the Los Angeles market for a regular season hockey game. One day later, the New York Rangers played the New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium in New York and pulled an impressive 1.6 overall rating and 5.1 local rating.
“The games were spectacular, the images were unforgettable and the sheer energy our sport creates was unmistakable. This truly was a remarkable weekend for our fans and our League,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said after Sunday's game.
This year's Winter Classic didn't suffer from water-down effect either. The game was at Michigan Stadium on the University of Michigan campus and drew over 100,000 fans and saw a 21-percent ratings boost from last year. The event broke a Canadian TV record for nonplayoff hockey with over eight million viewers.
The NHL is responsible for funding and organizing all the outdoor games, which come with expectations of around $20-million gross revenue for each game. The league also pays for the entertainment, security, the rink, and compensates the home team for losing a date at Staples Center.
The Stadium Series still has more games to go: The New York Rangers play the New York Islanders at Yankee Stadium Jan. 29 and the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins face off at Soldier Field in Chicago on March 1.
Going forward the league will have to decide on markets where an outdoor game will highlight hockey, and whether the number of games will eventually catch up with them.
“All of the teams were in L.A. watching everything because they want a game,” Steeg said. “It is great for the communities and draws out people who normally might not be interested.”
Interviewed for this story: Jim Steeg, (858) 774-4666