SBD/January 6, 2012/Events and Attractions

Hockey Writers Share Thoughts On Future Of NHL's Winter Classic



Seravalli said NHL has made Winter Classic a household name, even for non-hockey fans
After Monday’s fifth installment of the Winter Classic, the NHL has clearly established a key event on the New Year calendar, but the question remains how to treat the spectacle going forward. Veteran hockey writers have their thoughts and spoke to THE DAILY about how they believe the event should grow. Since the inaugural game in '08 at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Philadelphia Daily News’ Frank Seravalli said the NHL “has made the Winter Classic a household name, even for non-hockey fans that might be living in Alabama or Mississippi." He said, "There are few sports fans that aren't familiar with the event and its outdoor heritage." The league gets credit for extending the footprint over the years, adding events like an alumni game and this year’s AHL contest. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun said, “It's not just about one NHL game anymore. It's a week-long event. ... The league has gone Super Bowl-like in terms of how it treats the event.” But despite the success, there are opportunities for growth. As the NHL goes forward planning future Winter Classic events, Seravalli said the league “needs to get more teams involved in the game." He pointed out the NHL has “acknowledged that COO John Collins has flirted with the idea of having four regional outdoor games played on one given day, which would be the best way to spice up rivalries and maximize revenue.” But LeBrun noted, “On the hockey operations side, there are the logistical concerns of doing this more than once a year. So somehow those two sides of the operation are going to have to find a compromise.”

CONCERNS ABOUT RATINGS: The TV rating on NBC for the Rangers-Flyers game likely did not hit the numbers the NHL was hoping for Monday. The game drew a 2.1 fast national rating, tying it with the ’10 edition as the lowest-rated Winter Classic contest in the event’s five-year history. The game still ranks as the fifth most-viewed regular-season game since '75, but Seravalli wonders if the event's appeal has begun to fade. “The NHL paired Philadelphia and New York, two out of the top four media markets and two of arguably the best sports towns in America, together and were expecting a ratings bonanza,” he said. “Instead, the NHL found that there is no longer a ton of mystique surrounding two teams playing outside. It has been done before. The outdoor 'spectacle' notion of this event is fleeting.”

DETROIT NEXT? Rumors have circulated that the Red Wings will be the next team to host the game. LeBrun said, “Detroit, an Original Six club with avid fan base, would be a great choice for next year.” He said he would also like to see games in Minnesota, Denver and Yankee Stadium, once the Pinstripe Bowl’s contract at the venue expires. LeBrun noted the Maple Leafs have their 100th anniversary celebration "coming up in four-five years (and) I think a game in Toronto would make sense.” When choosing venues, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont said he would suggest the NHL “target any arena where a good amount … of the seats are at least 10 feet above ice level.” After attending the games held at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, he said the league should probably consider football stadiums more strongly than baseball venues because ballparks "are borderline horrid watching venues." He said, "So many of those seats are barely above ice level that the in-stadium, or in-ballpark, viewing, by my measure, is deplorable.” However, if the NHL does decide to use baseball stadiums, Dupont suggested it “would be better in these huge ballparks to build bleachers on one side of the rink, and maybe put 3,000 or 4,000 (spectators) in those bleachers.”
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