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Outdoor Hockey at The Ralph - Potentially Great for Buffalo

As reported yesterday by WGR550, The Buffalo News and Die By the Blade, the NHL is considering playing a regular season game outdoors for just the second time in league history. How is this related to the Bills? Reports yesterday indicated that the Buffalo Sabres are one of two teams in the running to host the game - at good old Ralph Wilson Stadium.

For the record, this is not set in stone by any means. The NHL is still deciding between Buffalo and Detroit (which would use the MLB's Tigers' Comerica Park) as potential venues for what NBC is tentatively calling "The Ice Bowl". (Way to get creative, NBC.) So it's not a done deal that The Ralph will be hosting any NHL hockey games. All I'm here to say is that hosting this game would be a great opportunity not just for the Sabres and the city of Buffalo, but for the Bills as well.

Why? It's not money - Ralph Wilson Stadium is owned by Erie County, not the Bills, so any money made from renting out the stadium for this game goes to EC, not the Bills organization. No, this is about exposure - exposure for Buffalo sports, exposure for the Bills' excellent stadium (despite what anybody else says about it), and exposure on a national and historical stage. We're talking about an event here that is one of the first of its kind, and is the first of its kind at the regular season, professional level. The Ralph (which can currently seat about 73,000 spectators) would undoubtedly be packed to the rafters with Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins (who have reportedly agreed to be the visiting team in the game) and even Bills fans. Concession and merchandise sales would be through the roof. In short, it would be a legendary night for a stadium that takes a lot of heat as a lower-end stadium in the NFL.

Very little (if any) of this money would be going to the Bills, and the game would be entirely about hockey. But when was the last time that a truly meaningful event was held in Orchard Park? As sad as it is to bring that up, it's true - having this game in The Ralph would be a great move for every party involved, if only for the nostalgic memories it would create for those lucky enough to attend that game (again, if it happens).

One last note: Sabres goalie Ryan Miller has participated in an outdoor hockey game before, in his time in college at Michigan State. Take a few minutes to check out this video of a 2001 college contest between Michigan and Michigan State - it will give you an idea of just how awesome "The Ice Bowl" would be in Buffalo...

Update [2007-7-11 11:49:13 by Brian G]: David O, author of Die By the Blade (SB Nation's Sabres blog), had this to say about the potential game:

An outdoor hockey game in Ralph Wilson Stadium between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins... it sounds sweet doesn't it? It may become a reality as well. An event of this magnitude will be good for all the parties involved including the Bills, Sabres, Buffalo and all of Western New York. The "Ice Bowl" as it's being dubbed would attract people and media from all over the United States and Canada to the Buffalo area to see a potentially historic event.

As far as the Sabres are concerned it would be a reflection on how good this team has become but more importantly on how great the fans are. While Detroit couldn't sell out Joe Louis Arena for a playoff game there were 10,000 fans standing outside the HSBC Arena watching a large TV because they couldn't get a ticket inside. If the reports are true and this event takes place in Buffalo it would be a far cry from a couple of years ago when the team filed bankruptcy and was being run by the NHL. It is a testament to Tom Golisano and his dedication to the Sabres and Western New York.