In just their third NHL season, the Seattle Kraken will host the Winter Classic.
An announcement from league commissioner Gary Bettman made the news official on Monday, ahead of the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins Winter Classic battle at Fenway Park.
Next year’s game, on New Year’s Day, will have the Kraken square off against the Vegas Golden Knights, the two newest teams to the league and added in the last six years. The game will take place inside the 49,929 seat home of the Seattle Mariners, T-Mobile Park.
"Just hosting it, there's tons of ambition with pulling it off," said Kraken chief executive offer Tod Leiweke. "Job one, pull it off. And do it well. Job two is how can we make it feel unique to Seattle? And job three, is how can we leave some legacy, once the game leaves?"
"Are there things we can do in and around the game to have community impact? That's what we think about at every turn."
League executive Steve Mayer, serving the NHL as chief content officer, is a driving force behind the conception and infrastructure of the annual event while also involved behind the scenes with the expansion draft at Gas Works Park two years ago. In an exclusive podcast interview to the Kraken Audio Network and 93.3 KJR-FM, Mayer said the league began a vision behind several trips into Seattle.
“Throughout last year, we’ve been back numerous times and we’ve visited numerous venues in town,” said Mayer. “Seattle is made of spectacular stadiums. But what we’ve looked at, is the ability to keep our rink as safe as possible throughout the entire build.”
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to support our hometown team when they take the ice and see our ballpark packed to the rafters with our city’s incredible fans cheering them on," Mariners president of business operations Catie Griggs said.
Factoring in the event has been hosted in MLB, NFL and college football venues, three practical options emerge: T-Mobile Park, Lumen Field, and Husky Stadium. Ultimately, the home of the Mariners won the landing spot.
Mainly, it was the safest approach to mitigating risk against ice surface contact with rain, a typical weather pattern in the Pacific Northwest.
“Rain is not necessarily our friend when we’re building rinks,” said Mayer. “The ability to close the roof to an extent was a huge advantage. We can neatly put one of the slats, on the roof, over the rink and protect the rink from rain. We felt that was a determining factor why the baseball stadium was best.”
Mayer said the next 12 months will bring a gradual build to an event that will not just showcase the game on an isolated calendar day, but an attraction of developing events around Seattle that will connect the city’s culture with game day itself. Mayer said a similar undertaking is underway for this year’s Winter Classic in Boston and next month’s Stadium Series game in Raleigh, N.C.
“The expansion draft was a fun event for us to start the creation of leaning into Seattle,” said Mayer. “Hopefully we’ll be able to incorporate a lot of celebrity into the Winter Classic. I think everything from the fish market, to the music that’s known not only in Seattle but all over the country – I think we have to lean into that.”
“All of these things, I think we’ll lean into how we design the field, create the environment that becomes a part of the game, and have some fun with it.”
Tickets will go on sale starting this spring, managed by the NHL.
“Outdoor hockey is at the essence of our game and the way many of our players grew up playing,” said Kraken general manager Ron Francis. "We are thrilled to have the chance to showcase this in Seattle.”
Though the NHL has hosted Stadium Series games in the pacific time zone, particularly at Dodger Stadium in 2013-14 and Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers in the following year, Seattle will be the first west coast location to host the league’s crown jewel and nationally televised New Year’s Day outdoor event.
Though the NHL first explored the outdoor concept with a pre-season game in 1991 between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers in a Las Vegas parking lot adjacent to Caesar’s Palace, the first official Winter Classic went off in blustery and snowy conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, where the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1 in a shootout on New Year’s Day in 2008 before over 71,000 fans.
Both the Kraken and Golden Knights will be making their first appearance in the Winter Classic. The Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have made the most appearances, four times, while Fenway Park this year has become the first venue to host the game twice.