The NHL Winter Classic used to be an event you couldn’t miss. The game was brought back outside where it was born, forcing current NHL players to deal with the elements and offering fans a unique look at the game of hockey. HBO’s 24/7 accompanied the event, shedding new light on players and organizations in a brand new way. As the league prepares for its seventh Winter Classic, it’s impossible not to feel like the event has lost its luster.
This opinion won’t be shared by everyone, but I personally feel like interest in the 2015 Winter Classic is lower than all of the previous editions of the event. The Capitals and Blackhawks take the ice inside Nationals Park in roughly a week and it seems like very few people have noticed. Why?
Too Much of a Good Thing
The Winter Classic used to be a special event because it was a rare sight to see NHL teams skating outside. The NHL saw a financial opportunity and created the Stadium Series, a chunk of games which would also take place outside. How were they any different from the Winter Classic? Aside from the date, they weren’t.
The 2013-14 season featured six outdoor games: The Winter Classic, the Heritage Classic and four Stadium Series games. What was once a rare sight became a bit too common. The New York Rangers played outside twice in Yankee Stadium over a span of four days.
The NHL was correct – the Stadium Series was a cash cow. However, it damaged the Winter Classic brand. Suddenly the game wasn’t as special as fans had several opportunities to attend or watch an outdoor game.
Behind the Scenes
HBO’s 24/7, like the Winter Classic, was a new idea for hockey fans. The series brought the game’s biggest names and most familiar faces to light and made the sport feel more alive than it ever had in the past. Ilya Bryzgalov became a star, not for his play on the ice, but for his incredible quotes inside 24/7.
Skip ahead to the present days and you have HBO on the sidelines. The network offered various reasons as to why they opted out, but the bottom line is that behind the scenes content is pretty common in the NHL. EPIX took over, but we’ve also seen a teams, NHL 36 and a ton of other features/videos which show off the NHL outside of the traditional games.
The uniqueness of 24/7 assisted in promoting the Winter Classic. Everything was new and refreshing and it made the Winter Classic seem like a truly extraordinary event. Now that we’ve all seen various videos and programs which take us behind the scenes (NHL 36 comes to mind), the EPIX production isn’t as exciting. Based on a very small sample of folks on social media, few people even sought EPIX out.
Feel free to call this hate on the East Coast, but the Winter Classic needs some new blood. It’s insane that in the seventh year of the Winter Classic that so many teams have participated more than once. After 2015, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia will have competed twice in the Winter Classic. Boring!
Why not invite some new teams to the party? The NHL has hinted at outdoor games for Colorado and Minnesota, but why not allow them to host a Winter Classic? Why not alter the tired formula?
The 2014 Winter Classic had an interesting gimmick in the fact the Big House and over 100,000 fans would be attending the game. The 2015 edition lacks that component and Nationals Park lacks any distinctive characteristic or quality which would cause more casual users to tune in.
Further Removed from the Lockout
The cycle is almost always the same. There’s a lockout, fans get upset and then fans return in waves once the sport resumes. The 2014 Winter Classic was the first since the most recent lockout killed the 2013 edition and fans were eager to watch outside.
Now that we’re another year removed from the lockout, the Winter Classic seems even more unappealing because it wasn’t withheld last season.
Will Ratings Support the Argument?
Ultimately, we’ll see if my argument is crazy or not based on the television ratings. Last year saw the Classic’s ratings improve from 3.74 million in 2012 to 4.4 million in 2014. Is another ratings boost in store? We’ll see, but it seems unlikely based on the initial conversation and lack of hype heading into the Holidays.