Too hot for hockey: NHL may play at 80 degrees
The sports world is upside down. The Super Bowl may be played in a snowstorm. Meantime, in Los Angeles this weekend, they'll be playing a hockey game in a heat wave.
The NHL is launching its Coors Light Stadium Series with the first ever official outdoor game west of the Rockies. The Los Angeles Kings will host the league-leading Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night.
"It's pretty cool being in Dodger Stadium and standing on, for me, where Sandy Koufax was pitching, and Don Drysdale was pitching, and Maury Wills," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. It may be cool, but temperatures could be quite warm. Although the game begins at 6:30 p.m., highs during the day could touch 80 degrees.
"We're hoping for a 55-degree night when we drop the puck," said Dan Craig, senior director of facilities operations for the NHL. Keeping the ice icy has become a priority, though players don't seem too concerned. "I'd rather play with it a little hot rather than it snowing or raining or being freezing cold," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
Kings President Luc Robitaille joked, "It doesn't really change the game because it's the same ice for both teams."
The NHL is hoping an outdoor game will draw in more casual fans in a region of the country where hockey has traditionally been a harder sell. Even though the Kings and the Ducks have both won the Stanley Cup, ticket prices tend to be lower in this part of the country than for teams in Chicago or Canada.
"In a market like LA, you've to win to sell tickets," said Kings star player Dustin Brown.
"We know in Southern California there's roughly two to two and a half million hockey fans out of 16 million people," said Robitaille. "But some of them are from Michigan, they love Detroit. Some of them are from Chicago, they love Chicago."
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"Prices for the LA outdoor game are the lowest of any of the outdoor games," said Jesse Lawrence, CEO of ticket vendor TiqIQ. "The most expensive ticket is the Black Hawks game at Soldier Field; that's got an average price of over $400. The Dodger Stadium game is right around $200, so it's comparatively lower, but it's still a huge event for L.A."
The NHL set the ticket prices, and while other outdoor games in other parts of the country sold out quickly, sales were soft in LA at first. Robitaille said that was partly due to a misunderstanding in marketing. After fans balked at how expensive tickets were in upper seats—especially compared with going to a baseball game—the league lowered prices in certain sections.
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"Actually where we are right now, these are the best seats, so the league priced them that way," said Robitaille, looking down on the rink from midlevel seats. "But you try to tell people in LA, 'Those are going to be good, trust me.' They won't know until they get here and say, 'Man, I wish I was sitting up there, because those are the best seats.' "
Parking, which usually costs as low as $10 for Dodger games, has also been hiked to between $20 and $50. Still, the NHL is expecting a sellout by Saturday. "The league's going to make a lot of money," Robitaille said.
Whether the game will be especially profitable, it will certainly be unique. This being Los Angeles, a special stage has been set up in right field where KISS will perform between periods. In left field there's a beach volleyball court. "It's pretty weird actually, but it's special for our fans," said Robitaille.
—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter