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NHL aims to highlight best of Stars, Dallas at Winter Classic

The league hopes to produce a spectacle that makes the 2020 event at Cotton Bowl Stadium more than just a game

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The Winter Classic is a combined effort between the league, an NHL team, and the host city, and Steve Mayer has a big job in bringing together all of those elements.

The Chief Content Officer for the NHL is busy juggling Winter Classics and All-Star Games and Stadium Series events, so he's got a lot of chainsaws flipping through the air. But in doing so, he says his first goal is to make every one of these events unique.

That's one reason the NHL decided to hold the 2020 Winter Classic at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Mayer said.


[ENTER TO WIN: Click here for your chance win four tickets to the 2020 NHL Winter Classic in Dallas]


"It's so funny, we just left the team here at Notre Dame and one of the things that made me so proud was they said, "You did our university justice today, you honored us thematically exactly as we would like to be honored." And I would like to say the same thing about Dallas," Mayer said after the 2019 Winter Classic was held at Notre Dame.

"This is a showcase to the world, and I mean to the world, this is our signature event, and when people tune into that event, we want people to know that we're in Dallas, Texas - and I think there are so many ways we can go."

Mayer, who grew up in New Jersey, said he remembers watching Cotton Bowl games when he was young and marveling at the spectacle.

"The other thing that attracts me is as a huge sports fan, growing up January 1st was a big day, because it was the Cotton Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl, and man, I loved the Cotton Bowl," he said. "So how do we thematically bring the Cotton Bowl back to January 1st? Where's Joe Montana? I've got to get him on the horn. These are the kinds of things we will do to honor that great stadium and what we think is one of the greatest sports tradition."

Video: Winter Classic 'feels like Super Bowl event' to Stars

Mayer said the decision to bring the Winter Classic to Texas came together pretty quickly and received a huge boost when the NHL events team visited the Red River Rivalry Game between Texas and Oklahoma in October. He said the function of the stadium, which is almost 90 years old, and the classic vibe of the event, convinced the NHL that this really could be something different and special.

"I personally had an incredible experience as a sports fan, and obviously in the job that I have to do, to make a trip to Dallas for the Oklahoma-Texas game, and visited the Texas State Fair, the Fairgrounds, and then experienced the game, and watched how that operated and flowed," he said. "Given all of the logistics that go into putting on an event like the Winter Classic, it proved to me the Cotton Bowl was in amazing shape to do just that, and could handle an event of our magnitude. And that's really when we started the ball rolling on putting the puzzle together."

Once the information was in, it didn't take long for the top executives and the Board of Governors to get on board.

"Everything just fell into place, and we're absolutely thrilled," he said. "It all worked out in a very short period of time, and we truly believe that we're going to put on an incredible event and the City of Dallas is going to be behind it."

Stars president Brad Alberts said the team is convinced they can fill the stadium by appealing to fans throughout the Southwest who want to make the trip to Dallas for a nice vacation that could last a few days. And Mayer said the league expects to make this much bigger than just the game. There will be a youth hockey tournament with championship games on the outdoor ice, and there will be extensive use of the buildings around the stadium at the Fair Grounds.

"Logistics is a huge part of these games, and we take over stadiums for two to three weeks, so we need that stadium. We really want to be outdoors, and we tend to own the environment, so we have to find a place that makes that work," Mayer said. "From our standpoint, we think this perfect. Logistically, it has all of the elements that we need to put these games on -- locker-room space, some of the office space that we need, the absolute incredible Fair Grounds that we're going to use for FanFest and other events, New Year's Eve parties. ...

"Those are the kinds of things that we look for in picking a venue, and Dallas had it all."

As for the unpredictable Texas weather, Mayer said the league isn't worried. There was rain the day before the game at Notre Dame, and things went off without a hitch. There will be contingency plans in Dallas to move the game to later in the day or the next day if there is heavy rain. And really, holding games all over the U.S. and Canada, the events team always has to deal with weather issues.

Video: Stars selected to host 2020 NHL Winter Classic

"Wherever we go, weather is going to be a factor," he said. "I believe there have been events in Dallas that have been subject to bad luck. We'll do everything we can to work with the city. It's something we're really good at. I work with the greatest event team in the world, and we will work through any potential situations.

"We are not worried at all, based on what we know about Dallas."

The league has not announced an opponent yet, but Mayer said he's excited that the Winter Classic will have a first-time team in Dallas. He said it's part of the process to keep the game fresh.

"It's a new team. Dallas has not played in an outdoor game, and that's something that for the league was attractive," he said. "It's nice to be able to bring some new teams into the mix, and we at the league want to help continue to grow the game. We're there at the draft, we're here for the Winter Classic, it's very important to us."

And for a guy who likes to look for unique things, it's a fantastic opportunity to do something different.

"That's my job, to take a football stadium and turn it into a hockey stadium. And Dallas is perfect for this. Everything is big in Dallas, it's country music, Big Tex, stand outside in the Fair Grounds," he said. "There is a whole 'nother experience when you come to one of our events, one of our Winter Classics or Stadium Series games, live. It is something else, because there is so much to look at and to take in and to see. The music and the flyovers and the pomp and circumstances … these are all things we're going to do when we get to Dallas.

"So I just think it's the perfect home for us to be able to do all of that and take it to another level."

The Dallas Stars will host Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® on Jan. 1, 2020 at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas. For more information about the game and to enter for a chance to win tickets, visit

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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