By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins are among teams exploring the idea of hosting outdoor games, and with fans in attendance, when the NHL eventually drops the puck on a 2021 season, according to a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
“None of the clubs would comment, but they are Anaheim, Boston, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh,” Friedman wrote. “According to multiple sources, it was the Kings who first considered the idea several months ago. Owner Anschutz Entertainment Group also owns Dignity Health Sports Park, located 15 miles from the Kings’ home, Staples Center.
“The Bruins have been in contact with state and city officials about different options. I had heard specific mention of Fenway Park, and was told that is in an ‘exploratory phase,’ but it was stressed all venue options are being considered.”
Friedman’s report was later confirmed by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, and the Bruins themselves confirmed their interest.
“We are in consistent contact with the NHL as well as officials from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston, and are exploring all possible venue options for the upcoming season – including Fenway Park,” the Bruins said in a statement. “At this point we are in the exploratory phase.”
The Bruins have previously played at Fenway, of course, squaring off with the Philadelphia Flyers at America’s most beloved ballpark in the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic. Fenway has also played host to countless hockey games since then, with college hockey regularly playing games with a Green Monster backdrop.
So, logistically speaking, it’s not this impossible task.
But speaking with a source Thursday, the Bruins’ chances of actually pulling this off were indeed deemed a “total long shot.”
Keep in mind that Gillette Stadium is closed to fans through the 2020 NFL season.
That will end with the Patriots playing host to Jets in Week 17, which this year will be played in the first week of January 2021. Factor that in and it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around the idea of local officials saying no to the Patriots holding limited attendance at the 68,000-person monstrosity in the suburbs but signing off the Bruins welcoming a limited amount of fans at the cramped, in-the-city ballpark that holds nearly half that number at full capacity just a few weeks or a month later.
The availability of a potential COVID-19 vaccine is the wild card in all of this, but there’s yet to be a legitimate projection that suggests its limited availability will make sports fans a priority out of the gate in early 2021.
Also: Just as a quick note, there’s not a venue worse for hockey than Fenway Park. It’s just garbage for 90 percent of fans in attendance, and if you’re holding outdoor games on an even somewhat regular basis in 2021, it’s to get fans in the stands. And if it’s to get fans in the stands, it’s to recoup some of the money you’re losing by not having fans at TD Garden. In other words, this isn’t going to be an affordable experience for those packed into Fenway’s gates. And sure, that’s never been known to be at the top of the Bruins’ priority list, but if you can’t guarantee an enjoyable viewing experience, fans (many of whom are likely going through an economic crisis of their own) are going to lose sight of the novelty — and the puck — real quick.
Of course, Fenway is not the only option for the Bruins. They say as much in their statement.
But it doesn’t get any easier to understand how this is going to work should the Bruins have an interest in a more crowd-friendly location such as Harvard Stadium. The Ivy League schools canceled their sports seasons way ahead of everybody else (the Harvard Crimson are not playing hockey this season), and their students are almost entirely remote this year. Imagine being part of their operation and missing out on a year of NCAA play and student-life and then watching as the NHL walks into your backyard, sets up shop, and has fans come to your space to watch the games you were told you couldn’t play?
It’d take a bit of a deviation from a path Harvard’s been pretty committed to for almost nine months now.
Let’s also acknowledge the biggest issue of all: We’re not even sure if there’s gonna be a hockey season in 2021. The NHL and NHLPA are already bickering over a CBA that’s five months old, with the owners asking for additional concessions from the players due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But we’re talking outdoor games? With fans in attendance? This is like planning the honeymoon before you even have the potential date’s phone number.
The NHL, which has targeted a Jan. 1 start since the season ended, remains without an official start date to the 2021 season.