Eight years ago, I missed the inaugural NHL Winter Classic. Weather delays pushed the game back from an afternoon start to an evening puck drop, so we were on the road when the first NHL outdoor game took place.
Since then, I’ve made it a point to at least watch some of the New Year’s Day spectacle. I’ve used it as a bridge between the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl game.
But it appears as though the rest of American hasn’t made it a priority to watch the outdoor game. This year’s contest, which featured the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, drew just a 1.6 rating, an all-time low in the eight-year history of the event. And this comes just a year the game drew a 2.2 record, which was the lowest draw at that point.
So it’s quite obvious that the NHL has to do something with this game. The league can no longer rest on the novelty of the event. It must become interesting for the American public once again in order to survive.
The first thing the NHL can do to increase the novelty and intrigue surrounding the Winter Classic is get rid of the dumb Stadium Series. Because of the initial popularity of the Winter Classic, the league created the Stadium Series to get more outdoor games outside of New Year’s Day. But the effect has decreased the novelty of the outdoor game. I mean, when you’ve got an outdoor game in Los Angeles, the whole idea has jumped the shark.
Instead, the NHL simply needs to make the Stadium Series go away. The only outdoor hockey game involving American teams needs to be the Winter Classic (Canada’s Heritage Classic is fine as is). Then the novelty of an outdoor game starts to go back up.
Another thing the league can do is find more interesting places to play the game. At this point, most of the historical venues in the north have already hosted the Winter Classic. But there are still cool venues that have yet play host to the game. The Chicago Blackhawks can host somebody at the Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, or Columbus can play the game at the Horseshoe at Ohio State. The NHL can even step over the border and play the game in Toronto at newly renovated BMO field. But finding new and interesting places to play the are a must for its survival.
Of course, most of these changes could all be for not. There’s a very good chance that the severe dip in the ratings the past two years are just because people don’t care about the Winter Classic. At eight years, it might have worn off its welcome.
But the NHL needs to at least try to make the Winter Classic interesting once again. It’s become a great part of the New Year’s Day tradition surrounded by the bowl games which have been a staple of the day. It needs to find the spark that made it success once again.