SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The sun was shining brightly Thursday on a 90-degree day at 68,500-seat Levi's Stadium when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took the podium and delivered what to some was surprising news.
The 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 is almost sold out, 143 days before the puck will drop.
"The game will be a sellout because it's already close to a sellout," Commissioner Bettman said during the game's kickoff press conference.
Commissioner Bettman said he "never had any doubt" the game would sell out, even at such a large stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers.
"We know that there are great, passionate Sharks fans, displaced NHL fans from around North America that live in the Bay Area, and we figured you combine the Sharks with the interest in this state and it was an enormous proposition," Commissioner Bettman said.
John Tortora, Sharks chief operating officer, said fewer than 5,000 tickets remained when they went on sale Thursday afternoon. The other tickets were snapped up by Sharks, Kings and 49ers season-ticket holders.
"That's incredible," Tortora said. "It goes back to the fan support. The League wanted to come to Levi's Stadium, and we were supportive of that because we looked at the scaling and the pricing we could create here. We were able to attract [68,500] people to come to the stadium, but we were able to price the tickets where 67 percent of the tickets are at the average ticket price of $150 or less. We wanted to make it an opportunity for fans to come out and make it somewhat affordable to come out to the game. And it's worked.
"Our season-ticket base has responded incredibly positively, exceeded our expectations, and in turn the 49ers season-ticket holders and the Kings season-ticket holders also bought their share of tickets. So it's been a success."
Last year, the Kings and Anaheim Ducks played an NHL Stadium Series game attended by 54,099 fans at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. This year, the Sharks and Kings will have a bigger crowd at Levi's Stadium, which the NHL chose over 41,503-seat AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
"I think it tells you a lot about our fan base and the growth of hockey in California," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "To me, this is a celebration of both those things. All the players that have played here, the fans that have supported us, the community. We take this as a great compliment and a great opportunity to continue to grow our game here."
Sharks forward Joe Pavelski played an outdoor game for the University of Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers; this will be his first NHL outdoor game.
"It will be great," Pavelski said. "We're excited. Obviously most hockey games in San Jose are sold out. It's exciting to hear the tickets are going really well so far. That's what we expect. Playing the Kings, too, makes it just about perfect."
Commissioner Bettman said there were a handful of reasons the NHL decided to hold the game at Levi's Stadium, which is located a few miles northwest of San Jose.
"This is really Sharks country, this is where predominantly Sharks season-ticket holders come from, and we wanted to keep it in Sharks country to the extent we could," Commissioner Bettman said. "Coupled with the fact the 49ers invited us into this magnificent, state-of-the-art, technologically advanced stadium. That combinations said to us this was the right place. And the seating capacity; this will hold more people, which will make this an even more inclusive event."
That invitation to play hockey at Levi's Stadium came from 49ers CEO Jed York, whose late grandfather, Edward DeBartolo, owned the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1977 to 1991.
"When I look at my connection with hockey, it started when I was a little kid," York said. "My grandfather owned the Pittsburgh Penguins, my mother (Denise DeBartolo York) ran the Pittsburgh Penguins. She's one of the only women in the world to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
"I was there when we lifted up the Stanley Cup ... for the first time when we beat the North Stars (in 1991). I'll never forget that game. I'll never forget that day. I'll never forget those teams and I'll never forget my connection with the National Hockey League. And to be able to have a game here at Levi's Stadium and pay tribute a little bit to some of the great memories of my childhood and be able to bring [68,500] people to watch the Sharks take on the Kings, I'm very, very excited, and I'm very honored that the NHL chose to host a game here."
Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Correspondent