The other morning I was listening to "The Fanatics" on 99.9 The Fan with Mike Maniscalco and Dan Mason, and they were actually discussing the idea of having a "Winter Classic" in Raleigh. For those of you who may have been traveling in Europe during the New Year and have no idea what I'm referring to as the "Winter Classic", it was that great outdoor hockey game up in Buffalo on New Year's Day that was played in a snowstorm.
In my opinion, the game was a huge success on many levels. First of all, it got the whole continent talking about hockey and the NHL for a couple of days. The event drew a near record crowd of over 70,000 at the venue and also garnered a substantial USA television audience while capturing the highest rating for a regular season hockey game in over 10 years. While there were several technical aspects and delays which could be improved upon, the game had plenty of drama which kept viewers watching. (Of course the falling snow helped as well).
Could a similar game be successful in Raleigh, say if the Hurricanes played the Capitals in Carter Finley Stadium? On a local level it could be, at least as a one time special event. There's no doubt that bus loads of Caps fans would come, as well as the Caniac diehards and curious multitudes in the Triangle who would want to participate in doing something unique. With proper marketing, the 50 to 55,000 seats in Carter Finley would sell out, (even if not immediately like in Buffalo). I really doubt that it would be as popular on television though, outside of the local area.
While the event in Buffalo was fantastic for the game of hockey and for the NHL, the league has to be careful. One of the reasons that it was so successful is because it was different. Will these outdoor games continue to be popular if they become more common? That's something the NHL will have to figure out, because according to reports several franchises have requested to host one of the spectacles.
Who knows, maybe an annual New Year's Day "Winter Classic" would become more and more popular each year as time goes by? Maybe it could become a tradition, like Thanksgiving Day football? In any event, I think it will be a cold day in Hades before one comes here. If Gary Bettman has requests to host one of these games in New York, Minnesota, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Colorado, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, Ottawa, and Raleigh, which franchise do you think will be at the bottom of his list?
But just the fact that two sports radio jocks in Raleigh, North Carolina were even discussing the feasibility of an outdoor hockey game here without laughing about it, shows everyone just how successful the "Classic" was. It also shows how hockey has "arrived" in this area.
While we are dreaming here, let's take the idea to another level. You know what would be cool? If the NHL could pull off a "Winter Classic" in multiple locations on the same day, just like an NFL Sunday. If you look at the possible attendance figures here, they could be astronomical....
- Rangers against the Islanders at Yankee Stadium, 60,000
- Flyers against the Pens at Veteran's Stadium, Penn State 80,000
- Leafs against the Habs at the Skydome, 70,000
- Sabres against the Sens at Buffalo, 70,000
- Devils against the Lightning at the Meadowlands 70,000
- Bruins against the Kings at Fenway Park, 50,000
- Canes against the Caps at Carter Finley, 50,000
- Oilers against the Flames at Edmonton, 70,000
- Chicago against St. Louis at Wrigley Field, 50,000
- Wild against the Canucks at the Metrodome, 70,000
- Avs against the Stars at Mile High, 70,000
- Red Wings against anybody at the Silverdome, 80,000
(please excuse me for using a couple of indoor arenas or outdated ones in my list above. In a brain-dead moment, I was just throwing out some hypothetical examples and obviously some were not good choices. Just replace my example with one that works better for you, the premise is the same.)
You get the idea. Twelve outdoor games the same day would draw almost a million people. Even if the television ratings were in the tank, (which they wouldn't be), the gate receipts would set all kinds of records. Can you smell the money Mr. Bettman?