The Winter Classic: What's Next?


I don't think it's too early, or too much hyperbole, to call the Winter Classic a rousing success. It is the talk of the sports world today, a day usually reserved for talk about college football. Here's an example, my sister (henceforth known as the Jibblesis) who is a fairly avid Avalanche fan, but really could care less about any other sport called me on New Years and mentioned she had TiVo'd the Winter Classic. While the play was choppy and the stoppages were excruciating the event was great. Just seeing 71k+ in an American stadium was enough for even those people who think the "hoc-key?" joke was ever is still funny to think "Wait, people really DO like this sport".

And as much as hockey fans are tired of the overexposure of Sidney Crosby, the fact remains that he isn't overexposed to most of the American fans so having him in a game (and create the first goal right off the bat) was really a no-brainer. The obvious question is how can the NHL parlay this into a showcase event every season? Like real estate the answer is Location, Location, Location. This game benefited, more than anything, from Buffalo's passion for hockey. It showed a real American City, they even get to vote for president, packed to the brim for a game most thought to be irrelevant in the United States. The key to the next game will be to show that passion and fun in the next city. Here's a list of possible locations the NHL should look at for the next game (hopefully next New Years):
  • Yankee Stadium- Rangers vs Devils/Isles/Bruins/Pens. The Knicks are down, and Yankee Stadium is probably the most famous stadium in the US. It's also being torn down for the new Yankee Stadium. The Rangers have star power (Jagr), American Star Power (Gomez, Drury, Shannahan), and probably the best young goalie in the league (Lundqvist), brand recognition and let's face it: if the Rangers receive local buzz the national media will cover it even more than normal. Oh the Rangers are a pretty good team too. The downside? It only seats 57k+.
  • Happy Valley - Flyers vs. Pens. An in-state rivalry, one that's already been talked about. The Flyers are also one of the strongest brands in the NHL, and of course it would feature Crosby again. It would be held in a classic 100k+ college stadium that features 2 of the best fan bases in the league (Philly, Pitt). The Downside? Is central Pennsylvania a place that would attract the biggest media contingent/buzz?
  • The Big House - Red Wings vs Avs/Leafs/Blackhawks. Why not give the Western Conference some love? The Red Wings are probably the most popular, and hated, US-based team. They are rich in tradition and have a loyal following, and a hockey mad culture. Many people still see Wings-Avs as a rivalry, but I think a Leafs-Red Wings tilt would be a pretty great draw. Downside? Well the Wings attendance has suffered the last 2 years.
  • Gopher Stadium - Wild vs Avs/Stars/Red Wings/Blackhawks. What better place to play an outdoor game than the State of Hockey? Minnesota fans deserve a game here. Downside? Unfortunately for Minnesotans, they have no real strong rivals ( kinda sort of the Avs or Canucks) and their coach relies on a style of hockey that bores even the most avid hockey fans. I just can't see NBC or the NHL putting the Neutral Zone Trap in a showcase game.
  • Soldier Field- Blackhawks vs Red Wings - Yes a little unconventional, but this could be the event that brings hockey back in Chicago, a city the NHL desperately needs back in the mix. Now that the son of Wirtz is putting games back on TV there, Blackhawks fans are starting to return and this could be the event that gets them completely back. Downside? If the fans don't come out, it would be an unmitigated disaster. Probably a touch too risky at this stage
So those are my picks for the next one. Why isn't there any Canadian Cities on the list? Because the NHL needs to gain more traction in the states. Yes a game in Montréal or Toronto would be magnificent but if the NHL is trying to break into New Years Day, they need American teams, and American locations. If the goal of the outdoor game is to create a buzz in America (and that IS the goal) It does little good to show Canadians packing the house for an outdoor game. In fact it just reinforces the "It's a Canadian game, Americans would never fill a stadium for NHL hockey" myth.

9 comments:

  1. 1) Excellant post! We like all your listed ideas. The NY-NY game would be the best of the listed ones which means it has no chance of happening
    2) The game itself was far from the best we've seen, but the bad weather gave the game a unique feel that the sanataized indoor arenas don't/can't. Always like seeing football in bad weather.
    3) You can bet there WILL be an outdoor game(or two) next season! Too much money to be made.

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  2. The NY-NY game would be the best of the listed ones which means it has no chance of happening

    Coming Jan 1 2009...

    Thrashers vs Panthers, live from Atlanta

    "We think these two teams have a passionate fan base and would love to host out Winter Classic. Atlanta showed at the All-star Game in '08 that they love the game of Hockey."

    --Gary Betteman

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  3. Great analysis, Jibble. I like the Montreal game for tradtional reasons, but that Chicago-Detroit game in Chi-town could be incredible with Kane and Toews versus Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

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  4. Agreed. Great post. Wings/Hawks at Soldier Field sounds amazing. I wouldn't even mind seeing the Wings/Avs at Mile High.

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  5. 1) How about a 'double-header' with one game in the states and another north of the border. If it can generate $$ it can/will happen!

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  6. A double-header would be a pretty good idea. A Montéal-Boston game in Montreál followed by a Red-Wings vs Leafs game?

    Of course that's something I think would be a little better suited once the winter classic is a little more well-established, and it's kind of a nice gimmick to up the attention if the Winter Classic game ever loses a little luster.

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  7. and yes, I screwed up the accents on Montréal

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  8. Maybe the NHL planners should schedule next year's Winter Classic during the actual SuperBowl. Now THAT would compete with all of the Bowl games New year's Day.

    Awesome planning! Just loved it. ;)

    tdr

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  9. I railed against the day at first, but really all the big College games have been moved off of New Years. I thought the time was right for another sport to make a move, and the NHL made a good one.

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