By adding more outdoor games, Winter Classic loses uniqueness

By adding more outdoor games, Winter Classic loses uniqueness
April 21, 2013, 12:00 pm
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You can never have too much of a good thing, right?
 
Apparently, the NHL feels that way.
 
Everyone loves the Winter Classic. Even fringe hockey fans get a kick out of watching an outdoor hockey game on New Year’s Day in between a plethora of college bowl games.
 
The Winter Classic, born under chief operating officer John Collins, has become a unique signature event for the NHL and most especially, its broadcast partner, NBC.
 
Well, that uniqueness is about to disappear.
 
Sometime in the next two weeks, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to announce that there will be six -- count 'em, six -- outdoor hockey games in 2013-14.
 
Yeah, there will be the Winter Classic in Michigan. The league owes the Detroit Red Wings that much for canceling this year’s event because of the lockout.

That game will then be followed by five other contests, spaced out over the course of the winter, including a game in Dodger Stadium and two at Yankee Stadium.
 
No matter how the NHL tries to spin this, what you have here is an attempt to capitalize off of an event that generates as much as $35 million in revenues and duplicate it five more times to make up for a windfall of money shortages caused by the 2012-13 lockout.
 
Said one agent, this was the result of, “the NHL deciding to lockout 40 percent of their season for no good reason and destroy their revenue base. No lockout, no six outdoor games.”
 
This isn’t necessarily greed at play here. It’s the NHL’s “quick fix” to revenue shortages.
 
You can’t think NBC is particularly pleased its focal point game is about to be spun off into quintuplets.
 
The series of outdoor games begins on Jan. 1 at Ann Arbor, Mich., between Toronto and Detroit, and then moves to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Vancouver.
 
TSN’s Darren Dreger reported the dates and clubs involved as:
 
• Anaheim Ducks vs. LA Kings at Dodger Stadium, Jan. 25
• New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Jan. 26
• New York Islanders vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Jan. 29
• Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field, March 1
• Ottawa Senators vs. Vancouver Canucks at BC Place, March 2
 
The two games at Yankee Stadium are intended as a precursor to Super Bowl XLVIII, which will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on Feb. 2.
 
The final two games at Soldier Field and BC Place in Vancouver are to celebrate Hockey Weekend Across America 2014, which runs Feb. 28 through March 2.
 
Obviously, the game in British Columbia will fall under the flag of “Heritage Classic,”  which was last held 2011 in Calgary featuring the Flames and Montreal Canadiens.
 
The entire concept is all wrong. And it’s being done for the wrong purpose.
 
This is purely about recouping lost dollars from a lockout that the NHL brought upon itself.
 
Remember what made New Year’s Day so special back in the day?
 
You had the Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl. And after those games, you had a National Champion.
 
You might not have agreed with the final AP voting, but it was decided off one of those three games.
 
Now there’s so many bowl games, littered under corporate advertising symbols that college football’s National Champion isn’t crowned until five days later.
 
The NFL has its stand alone: the Super Bowl.
 
The NHL has its Winter Classic. It was authentic. It was special.
 
This will forever dilute it.
 
The Flyers hosted the Winter Classic in 2012. We asked Collins what made the game so special back then.
 
“The Stanley Cup Final is our New Year’s Super Bowl, but in just five years the Winter Classic has made its mark as an annual tradition on the North American sports calendar -- and that is rare for a regular season game in any sport,” he said in an interview with CSNPhilly.com.
 
“One thing the Winter Classic has in common with the Super Bowl is that it is a celebration of the game and regardless of who your favorite team is, you still want to be a part of it.”
 
When details began to leak out on Tuesday during the Rangers-Flyers game at Wells Fargo Center, Flyers president Peter Luukko was caught by surprise.
 
“I think a lot of teams want to be in the Winter Classic and it would give others the opportunity, but again, I haven't heard anything,” Luukko said.
 
That’s because the NHL approaches clubs many months in advance to gauge their interest in the Winter Classic.
 
“They actually came to us,” Luukko recalled. “They just say, 'Would you like to host the event?' And, absolutely we say yes. Then they come down and we cut a deal. I don't know why anyone would say no.”
 
You could make the argument that because there are so many outdoor games at various levels of hockey, the novelty is already gone.
 
The thing is, what made it so special for the NHL, however, hasn’t worn off -- it was just once a year.
 
“The atmosphere is incredible,” Collins said leading up to the Rangers-Flyers Winter Classic. “It’s the authenticity of outdoor hockey.
 
“Fans are given the opportunity to tailgate around a regular-season game. NBC provides a big event presentation through the production of their broadcast. The fans love it, players want to play in the Winter Classic, and sponsors want to be involved.”
 
One and done. That’s how the Winter Classic was intended.
 
That’s how it should remain.