SAN JOSE -- Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora let it be known to NHL officials last summer that he was interested in bringing an outdoor hockey game to the Bay Area.
The league was used to taking that sort of call. Ever since the advent of the NHL’s Winter Classic in 2008, it seems as if every member club has publicly expressed its desire to be a part of what has become a huge hit with hockey fans in North America.
On Wednesday, the league announced that Tortora would get his wish, with a Feb. 21 match between the Sharks and Kings at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Other than the 2015 Winter Classic in Washington D.C. on January 1, the game here is the only other outdoor game on the NHL schedule, and 15th overall since 2008.
“We think this will be one of the bigger sporting events the Bay Area has ever seen,” Tortora said.
Tortora relayed that the decision to hold the game at Levi’s Stadium over San Francisco's AT&T Park was ultimately the NHL’s call, but one that was supported by the team mainly due to the capacity. Primarily a football venue for the 49ers, Levi’s Stadium holds 68,500 people, much more than the approximately 42,000 at the Giants' ballpark.
“The capacity at Levi’s Stadium allows for a larger contingent of our fans from all over Northern California to attend. That was one aspect that we were very supportive when the league suggested they wanted to play this game at Levi’s Stadium,” Tortora said, later adding he’s not concerned about the game selling out.
“This game is about our fan base. Our fan base has been supporting us through the years, though good times and bad times, and they’ve been very consistent, loyal and emotional about their support. We wanted to have as many people as possible have the ability to attend this game.”
The larger venue also allows for a more diverse pricing plan, according to Tortora, who said that 44 percent of tickets are $65, $85 or $100. The average ticket price is $150, with tickets ranging between $65 up to $350. Sharks season ticket and game plan holders and 49ers seat holders will have a chance to purchase them first, with the general on-sale date coming in late September or early October.
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The outdoor game will be a new experience for all but three players on the San Jose roster. Scott Hannan, Tyler Kennedy and Raffi Torres are the only Sharks players to take part in an outdoor game.
Logan Couture said: “I’m super excited, and looking forward to it. Expecting an amazing atmosphere because of the rivalry.”
“It’s awesome,” Tommy Wingels said via text message. “Every year you watch these outdoor games and hope to play in one. Even better is the fact we are able to host one and have it in the Bay Area. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Outdoor games typically involve more than just the game itself, often coming with some sort of fan festival or public skating sessions, while the two competing teams also wear special jerseys. All of those details are still being worked out, according to Tortora.
“There will be other things around the game. Nothing has been finalized yet,” he said. “We expect to have the ice surface in the facility for a number of days either leading into or coming out of the actual game.”
“We are going to have a unique jersey. We’re working with the league on developing the jersey as we speak.”
As for revenue, Tortora explained that the league essentially buys a home game from the Sharks, and therefore becomes the primary financial beneficiary of the game with the money going into the pool of hockey-related revenue. Still, there are other benefits, like increased sponsor opportunities, more potential season ticket holders, and added general interest in the game of hockey.
“Our fan base, and the hockey foundation that we’ve developed over here for the last 20 years deserves it,” Tortora said. “Beyond that, the exposure that we’re going to get, not only for us but for the city of San Jose, is tremendous.”
“We’re grateful that after the process, the league saw the value of coming to Northern California.”