Updated: Feb 7, 2020
By: Patrick Ganczewski NHL Analyst @PatGanczewski
With a new decade comes another January Winter Classic game from the National Hockey League. Dallas will become the 9th team to host the game, joining Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Washington. Twenty-five teams in total have played in the Winter Classic game, with only Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay and Las Vegas yet to be involved.
The ratings have been one of the main factors that have fans clamoring for changes to be made to this game. Granted, the 2019 edition saw a slight rating increase as it was the game’s best mark over the last few years. The Blackhawks took their 4th defeat in Winter Classic games, which left fans wanting to see different teams.
The Winter Classic was at one time a marquee event for the NHL. Every kind of fan would tune in or attend live to watch the game being played due to the uniqueness of that particular game and how special it felt. However, that exceptionality and distinct feeling of the games is not what it once was, with the increasing of outdoor games, repetitive use of the same teams and complete lack of innovation.
As I mentioned previously, the ratings have been a prime reason for people calling for changes. In fact, the last time the Winter Classic reached a respectfully high rating was back in 2015 with a 2.5 (440 million viewers). Since then it has been consistently under a 2.0 rating. So, what can we do to improve the ratings, the game and the overall presentation and feel? I have some suggestions…
The quickest and easiest solution would be feature different teams, as I stated above. The Blackhawks are 0-4 in their Winter Classic contests, and through 11 total games, eight teams have played two times or more. Looking ahead to 2021, the Minnesota Wild will be hosting this game, although their opponent at Target Field has yet to be named. Personally, if Dallas hadn’t hosted this year’s contest, I would have picked the Stars to be the opponent due to the history of the Stars’ franchise. (From 1967 until 1992, Dallas used to be located in Minnesota and were known as the North Stars until they moved to Big D and dropped the word “North” from their nickname.)
Another way to draw in viewers would be having the games in unique locations, and with this year being in Dallas, it shows the league is open to warmer climates. That opens a ton of possibilities, especially since the game is hosted outdoors in baseball or football stadiums. I mentioned uniqueness as being a huge potential. Well then, what if the NHL decided to host a game somewhere that doesn’t look like your typical stadium? My first thought goes to the movie Mystery Alaska, where the NY Rangers played a pond hockey team from Alaska and they set up a stadium look on a frozen pond. Now, I am not suggesting that is exactly what the NHL would do, but just imagine how cool it would be to watch an NHL game someplace that is totally out of the norm.
Of course, you can mention technology as a possible enhancement to this game because technology is always advancing. The NHL has been moving forward with technology with regards to how they do player and puck tracking. I am sure that the league and NBC can create something that could be used for the Winter Classic and potentially used throughout the league.
I would also suggest cutting the Stadium Series completely. It’s clear that the Stadium Series mere existence is the prime reason why the Winter Classic doesn’t feel special or unique. It’s as if the Winter Classic is the game for the USA, while the Heritage Classic is for Canada, and those should suffice for the want of outdoor games for the league.
There are more suggestions like improving the entertainment, using themes and other ideas. But the league must acknowledge this game’s current weakness. The fact that the Winter Classic is always promoted as a one-of-a-kind spectacle, when in reality it is anything but that due to other outdoor games occurring each year, is a massive problem. The faster the league learns what the game is and is not, the faster it can be improved and will hopefully become the event we NHL fans want it to be.
Patrick Ganczewski Across the Board Sports