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How a Warm-Weather City Landed the (Outdoor) NHL Winter Classic

23 Jan, 2019

By: Michael Popke

Since its introduction in 2008, the site of the annual NHL Winter Classic — a New Year’s Day tradition in which professional hockey is played outdoors in a football or baseball stadium — has been located in hockey-heavy cold-weather cities. Only one, the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, has been held outside of the Northern or Eastern United States.

But on Jan. 1, 2020, the Winter Classic will take place where there’s hardly even a winter: Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas. The participating teams have not yet been announced.

As ESPN.com reported, the Cotton Bowl’s seating capacity “is listed at 92,100, although [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman said it’s more around 80,000.” Only three other venues have hosted NHL games with crowds larger than 70,000.

“Depending on the sight lines and configurations, our capacity is probably different than their capacity [at the Cotton Bowl],” Bettman said, adding that the final capacity numbers will be announced at a later date. “We know we can put the rink in, but we haven’t figured out the ticket manifest yet.”

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the great history of New Year’s Day at Cotton Bowl Stadium than by welcoming thousands of fans to witness the first ever outdoor professional hockey game in Texas,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement, referencing the dozens of Jan. 1 college football games the venue has hosted since 1937. “This great event is yet another example of how Dallas continues to be one of the most sought-after locations to host major sports events.”

How did Dallas become the first warm-weather destination for the Winter Classic? By making efforts to prove itself as a top-rate hockey city. Dallas hosted the 2007 NHL All-Star Game at the American Airlines Center and took another major step in in the right direction by `hosting the 2018 NHL Draft. Steve Mayer, the NHL’s chief content officer who also is responsible for the league’s events, said the draft helped forge strong relationships between the league, the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Sports Commission.

“Whether it’s been the All-Star Game or the draft and even occasionally when we’ve gone to the non-traditional [locations] for an outdoor game, I think we are focused in the next few years to introduce more teams into the mix,” Mayer told The Dallas Morning News’ Sportsday.com. “I think we heard our fans. We also know and respect teams that have participated in many of these games, but I also think there is a value in introducing new teams.”

Added Stars President Brad Alberts: “I don’t want us to ever act like a small-market team. Just because this is football country doesn’t mean we have to act like we’re a small-market team. We’ve got to act like we’re a major-market organization, and this is the kind of stuff that if you’re a major-market player in our sport, you got to be able to do.”

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