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We've Reached the Saturation Point on Outdoor Hockey

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Patrick Barron

If you missed it, and judging by the attendance numbers, you probably did,  MIami, Western Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State played outdoors at Soldier Field last weekend.

Attendance for the event was announced late in the second game at 22,751 in the 61,500-seat stadium. But even that number brought a hearty guffaw from what little crowd there was. Here's a crowd shot from the start of the Michigan-Michigan State game, which started a little after 9:30EST due to weather delays:

michmsuoutdoorcrowdshot

Organizers were quick to point out that attendance number was a two-game total that included people there for the first game against Miami and Western Michigan. That's true, but doesn't necessarily help their argument since Miami and Western played in front of friends family miscellaneous hobos that staggered into the stadium:

wmumiamicrowdshot

Complaints about the saturation of outdoor hockey games have been going on since the second one was played. The counter-argument has always been that people keep showing up to them. Saturday may have been the tipping point. Other outdoor games have been less than perfect experiences. This was the first that was an outright disaster.

The thing with outdoor games is that you need a hook. You know going into an event like this, as a fan, you're making some sacrifices. The view won't be as good. The quality of hockey won't be as good. The weather can be a gamble. The key is to find some other way to find extra meaning to the event that makes those sacrifices seem worthwhile.

The Hockey City Classic offered nothing of the sort. The novelty of playing outdoors? This was Michigan's seventh trip outdoors, It was Michigan State's fourth. Even Western Michigan(last year) and Miami(two years ago) had played outdoors relatively recently. A historic venue? Other than being former home to Savior Jim Harbaugh, what appeal does Soldier Field have to any of the four schools involved? Not to mention the distance to travel excluded a large chunk of the Michigan and MSU fanbases that would have needed to carry the event. This was basically one last ill-advised trip to the Fan ATM from thankfully-departed Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, and little more.

That's not to say that outdoor games themselves are bad, or shouldn't happen anymore.  When done correctly, they can be a tremendous experience. But the illusion that you can put any two(or four) teams anywhere and get a bunch of people to show up just because there's no roof on the building is gone.