NHL Hockey in Reliant Stadium? In September?

Categories: Hockey, Sports

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Hockey in Reliant Stadium? In September? A disaster in the making?
The word on the street yesterday was that the NHL is coming to Houston. Not to play real hockey, of course. And not for the season. But just for a preseason game. At Reliant Stadium. In September.

I like hockey. I want hockey to become a huge thing in Houston. But seriously, a hockey game in a football stadium in September just speaks to this whole thing not being completely thought out, which, in a way, makes sense seeing that one of the teams supposedly involved in this supposed game is the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that's been such a monumental failure in Phoenix that the vultures from Canada have been hanging over the team for several years, just waiting for the chance to return the team to the country from which it came.

Let's go to the obvious problems with this game. There's the Coyotes, who don't even have a following in Phoenix, much less a national following, and they're playing the Dallas Stars from the hated city of Dallas. Then there's the fact that this game is supposedly being played at Reliant Stadium. Supposedly being the operative word, seeing as how the good folks out at the Reliant complex say that an agreement for this game doesn't even exist.

And have I mentioned that they're playing this in a football stadium in September?

The NHL has had some success with its Winter Classic Game, played outdoors on New Year's Day and generally at a football or baseball stadium in a cold-weather city -- Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston. But inside a football stadium in Houston, in September? Hell, the Aeros couldn't play a preseason game in their practice complex last September because of poor rink conditions, so you can just imagine what it will be like in a stadium that's not designed for hockey.

The Aeros, like most hockey teams based in the South, have trouble keeping their ice cold and in non-slushy conditions at Toyota Center, and Toyota Center was built with the plan to host a hockey team, whether the Aeros or an NHL team. So just imagine what the ice conditions will be like in that huge football hangar the Texans play in? Let's just say that it's hard to imagine the stars on either team getting much ice time.

Now there's some thinking that playing this game in Houston, at Reliant Stadium, is part of a feeling-out process for whether Houston can support a NHL franchise, specifically the Coyotes, who are bleeding money and being subsidized by the NHL. But if that's the plan, then it's almost as if Houston is being set up to fail.

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Is this some kind of NHL test?

If there's going to be a NHL franchise in Houston, the games will be played at Toyota Center. So one would think that, to test the league's viability, they would play the game, or several games, at the actual venue that would host the future team. It's even more puzzling if you remember that Les Alexander, the owner of the Rockets and the landlord of Toyota Center, has dibs on any NHL franchise that may move to Houston. So not only would you expect the games to be played at Toyota Center, you would expect some involvement from Les Alexander.

Then there's the thing about the game being played in a football stadium. It sucks watching basketball in that thing, but hockey, which probably can't have a raised floor, will be worse. And Reliant probably seats about 74,000 for hockey. The NHL may be able to get 74,000 in a football stadium for a match-up between the Penguins and Capitals, two of the league's premier franchises, but does anyone expect that for a game with the Coyotes?

Instead, no matter how the rink is laid out, no matter how the upper level is curtained off, the TV cameras and visiting media will still be confronted with tons of empty seats. So even if 20,000 seats are sold, which would be a huge number for a preseason game, the national story will be that Houston's just another Southern city that doesn't care about hockey, just like Atlanta and Phoenix and Miami, so why keep trying? Why not just move the Coyotes back to Canada -- the Coyotes were originally the Winnipeg Jets.

And to make it worse, the Houston Aeros, the AHL affiliate of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, aren't even being asked for assistance with marketing or ticket sales, which the Aeros have provided in the past when NHL preseason games were played in Houston. One would think that for this thing to succeed, one would want to try and enlist the aid of the minor league franchise that, despite the odds, is succeeding and drawing good crowds.

I want the NHL to move here. I want the game to grow in Houston like in Dallas. But attempting to play a preseason game in a football stadium in September -- and in which the stadium landlord says there's not even a deal in place for the game -- involving two teams with no real followings just screams a disaster in the making.

But here's hoping I'm wrong.

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12 comments
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gostars
gostars

as a dallas stars fan i would love a team in houston, we're one of the few teams without a geographical rival and the hatred dallas and houston already have for each other would be perfect

Ace
Ace

Thanks, John, for doing a great job as usual to keep us posted about hockey in Houston.  I agree that the very idea of playing hockey in a football stadium is ridiculous.  Common sense takes over here,  Hockey should be played in a hockey arena!  Hmmm...Toyota Center is a hockey arena!  Seems like nobody is thinking this idea through!

TheMapleLeafPub
TheMapleLeafPub

I agree the Reliant is ridiculous, However, I'd love to see an NHL team in Houston.  Thanks for writing this story. 

B2B
B2B

I don't think this will work in Reliant either.  Having said that I would attend the game because I would not want a  poor showing for hockey in Houston.  That would be the only reason.

JerryChristian
JerryChristian

I think it's kinda random to put a preseason hockey game in a city where during the fall months, the weather is hot as hell most of the time. Plus, it's also during football season, and depending on the possibilities of a 2011 NFL Season being possible, imagine the hard work the grounds crew is gonna have to get through!

Forecheck
Forecheck

John - Figure on attendance of no more than 6K, less than 10% capacity. Figure on a playing surface the consistency of a Slurpee. Figure on nobody getting to sit within 150 feet of the ice surface. This stupid an idea can only come from one place - the office of Gary Buttm, er, uh, Bettman.

Bobby Rutherford
Bobby Rutherford

This will not happen. as soon as the people look at the cost of a temporary rink ~ approximately $500,000, is factored into the cost of having the game at Reliant (on top of the slush problems listed in this article) and the fact that there is not an agreement in place.

This will not happen at Reliant, if it does happen it will be at Toyota Center, but I am willing to bet the farm that there will not be a pre-season game in Houston in 2011.As to having an NHL team in Houston, forget it.  I will not pay that kind of money to watch any game, hockey, football or baseball, and I am a full season ticket holder center ice to the Aeros.

Patrix
Patrix

Mr. Royal, you obviously know nothing about hockey in Phoenix, so why don't you keep your mouth shut about it and focus on blathering on about your own city.

Prof. Topkat
Prof. Topkat

Ice hockey is my favorite sport, but to think that an NHL franchise would survive in Houston.........well, that must be some kind of a joke.

Except for the Stanley Cup playoffs, you never see anything about the NHL in that lousy Houston Chronicle.  Oh they do have the standings and those tiny printings of trades buried in the back pages of the sports section.  And the Aeros rarely ever make the front page of the sports section.  But soccer sure does .........and sometimes even girls volleyball.

Dallas has been a different story.  Long before the NHL came to the Big D, the Dallas Morning News covered the NHL to a reasonable extent.  Both Dallas and Fort Worth had Central Hockey League teams and the games were well attended. 

Before the original Aeros, there were the Houston Apollos, a Montreal Canadiens farm club that played exciting Hockey in the Houston Coliseum with its chain-link.fencing instead of glass.  People forget that the Summit (Now Lakewood Church) was built specifically for the WHA Aeros.  In the early years they played before packed houses while the Rockets couldn't draw shit.  But the attendance reversed over the years until the WHA merged with the IHL and hockey disappeared from the Houston sports scene.

The NHL in Houston?  That's a pipe dream.

Joeblow
Joeblow

The WHA merged with the NHL, not the IHL.

Guest
Guest

this is a lot of whining....how about you post optimisitic journalism in hopes of building the game thru the media...just a thought

wkar
wkar

I'm thinking they should play this at Roberston Stadium. 

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