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SBD/January 4, 2011/Events and Attractions
Winter Classic Takes Another Step Forward In Fourth Iteration
Published January 4, 2011
While rain "made a mess of the temporary ice surface" at Heinz Field for Saturday's Capitals-Penguins Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the event "took another big step forward in its fourth year of existence," according to Chris Johnston of the CP. The experience was "unanimously praised by players, coaches and team personnel, and the league may have lucked into a ratings bonanza after weather forced the game to be moved to prime time," as "early numbers from the U.S. were very strong." NHL COO John Collins indicated that the league "overcame a couple major hurdles during the past month." Not only did the NHL "prove teams could open their doors and allow fans more access to the sport" with HBO's "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic," the league also "showed that it could handle an outdoor game in less-than-ideal conditions." When asked prior to the game "about the possibility of good TV ratings in prime time," Collins said, "That would be the cherry on top of everything." Johnston wrote a "big challenge facing the NHL is finding ways to continue creating compelling storylines and situations for the Winter Classic." There is "no guarantee the game will be held on New Year's Day again next year because the league still has to negotiate new American TV contracts." In addition, Jan. 1 "falls on a Sunday in 2012 and the NHL might be reluctant to put the event against a full schedule of NFL games" (CP, 1/2).
PLAYING WITH THE CALENDAR: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside cited sources as saying that there is "already preliminary discussion about moving the game to a New Year's Eve time slot or pushing it to Jan. 2" next year. A Saturday slot, "perhaps early to midafternoon, might work, as it shouldn't push into NBC's New Year's Eve programming." But Burnside added, "Regardless of whether it's being played on Jan. 1, why clutter the schedule with other NHL games, especially those involving American teams? If the theory is to open as many U.S. eyes as possible to the spectacle, don't have eight other American-based teams in action, as was the case on Saturday. ... If they want to make this a special day for hockey, make it special" (ESPN.com, 1/3).
NIGHT TIME IS THE RIGHT TIME? The topic of whether the Winter Classic should be permanently moved to primetime was discussed yesterday on ESPN's "PTI," and Tony Kornheiser said, "I think night made it great." Kornheiser: "The camera angles under the lights were great. The only thing that was missing was snow, which by the way, can fall at night as well as in the afternoon. I think it was fortuitous that they postponed (it) because of the threat of rain and went to the night game. I say every game ought to be at night." But Michael Wilbon said, "Let's not go overboard. One of the reasons this game was so attractive is because it was Ovechkin and Crosby. It was the Capitals and Penguins. They've been the stars of the HBO thing -- which is fabulous -- and people had come to know them. They're rivals in the true sense of the word. Not every matchup is going to get that kind of following" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/3). Comcast SportsNet's Ivan Carter said, "I liked it under the lights more than the daytime" ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 1/3).
OVERSTAYING ITS WELCOME? SI.com's Dan Shaughnessy wrote it is "time to retire the outdoor hockey game." Capitals-Penguins drew a crowd of 68,111 at Heinz Field, but the fans "didn't get the atmosphere that made this game so compelling in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston" in the last three years. The weather "simply did not cooperate." Shaughnessy: "Warm weather is nobody's fault. But there were other things about the Pittsburgh Classic which gave hints that this event might have outlived its usefulness." Pittsburgh is "simply not a metropolis we associate with hockey," and Heinz Field is a "new facility singularly associated with football and the Steelers." Shaughnessy: "It's not old-timey like Fenway or Wrigley. It's simply a football field. Nothing more" (SI.com, 1/3). However, in Vancouver, Cam Cole asks, "Now that everybody has had a chance to take a deep breath, can we all agree there was nothing terribly sinister about the Bridgestone Winter Classic?" An outdoor game should only be played "once per year," but it needs to be held "by all means." Cole: "The fourth edition was such an unmitigated disaster, it sent sponsors home delighted, made a major U.S. network happy, and attracted a ton of casual viewers. The NHL will just have to live with those kinds of consequences" (VANCOUVER SUN, 1/4).