As we mentioned in the Dump and Chase, it looks like the 2012 Winter Classic will be played in Philadelphia, with the New York Rangers as the visitors. There’s already talk that the game won’t actually be on New Year’s Day, due to NFL football. Thankfully a lockout should take care of that issue.
You’ll remember that the Flyers last took part in the outdoor game in the 2010 event in Boston. That year the Flyers became the first (and so far the only) road team to lose a Winter Classic.
Since we’ve already seen Pittsburgh appear in two Winter Classics, having Philadelphia take part in their second might make some sense. But it feels like it’s too soon.
A few months ago there were rumours about having a New York team host the Winter Classic, but those have apparently gone out the door. It feels like the NHL wants to wait for Yankee Stadium to become available before they host the game in the Big Apple.
But then why have the Rangers take part in the 2012 Classic as well?
Sure, they play in a huge market, but this repetition of teams is starting to get old.
Plus, you just know that the game will come to Washington sooner than later too, so there’s some more repetition. Even the Heritage Classic has this problem as the Habs have played in both Canadian outdoor games. The league seems content with trotting out the same few teams every year and expecting people to care.
Well, at least it’s not the Penguins.
We get that the Winter Classic only works well with certain teams. The host team probably has to play in a market that actually sees snow in the winter and both teams need to be draws for television audiences. The Flyers and the Rangers certainly fulfil those requirements. This game is likely going to be huge from a ratings perspective, especially if the NFL doesn’t end up playing this year.
However, it feels like the Winter Classic has gotten to the point where it doesn’t need to rely on strong teams from big cities any longer. The game is very highly rated and one of the NHL’s only events that is accepted by the mainstream sports audience. Does the league really need to bring out the same few teams over and over again and expect it to feel special?
If the next Classic is Philadelphia and New York, you have to assume that this won’t be the Rangers’ final Winter Classic. The NHL will end up in Yankee Stadium somehow. When that day happens, the Rangers will take part in their second Winter Classic. As mentioned earlier, Washington wants the game as well and the NHL has mentioned that they’d like to bring a game there. That’s another repeat team and we wouldn’t put it past the NHL to have the Caps play the Penguins again. You have to assume that Detroit will eventually host a Winter Classic as well, so there’s another repeating team.
That means the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 Winter Classics could all be hosted by teams that have participated in the outdoor game before.
It’s a little bit of overkill. Yes, a limited number of teams could host the game, but the NHL is leaving out a number of great choices simply because they’re not “big markets.”
Minnesota, St. Louis, Columbus and Colorado are just a few other cities that could host the game. The various combinations of New York-area teams could provide some fresh match-ups as well. Even Los Angeles has been talked about in the past. If the NHL could pull that off, it would be impressive and fun to watch.
Maybe it makes logistical and economical sense to host the game in a small handful of cities. Maybe that’s what NBC wants from this game. However, it certainly feels like the league is limiting the Winter Classic. They’re playing dangerously with the possibility that the game could start to be seen as a “Northeastern US thing” rather than a celebration of hockey as a whole.
How long can this really go on?
At the very least, it seems weird that a league that seemingly cares so much about making the game successful in the south would run of the their marquee events this way. If the southern teams can’t host the game, couldn’t they at least play in it? Or does the game still need to draw in viewers with the teams NBC has the most success with?