The NHL’s annual Winter Classic on New Year’s Day has become the one of the most popular events of the year for the sport of hockey. The idea for the Winter Classic, initially presented for TV ratings, has seemed to work, gearing towards casual and hardcore hockey fans alike. Last year, 3.74 million people watched the Winter Classic that took place in Philadelphia, PA between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. The problem with the game is that it has not been strategically designed to gear to certain fans, particularly those in the Eastern Conference. For the NHL to see even more success with the event, there needs to be some variation in the location and teams chosen. I believe that the league has failed in this instance.
Fathoming the thought of an outdoor game in St. Louis may be daunting, but the average high temperature in the months of December and January are 43 and 40 degrees, respectively. This could be a challenge for planning the game and construction, but considering that the game time temperature for the Pittsburgh Penguins/Washington Capitals Winter Classic game in 2011 was 51 degrees, it’s not much cause for concern. That game went off without a hitch (although was delayed until nighttime), and became the most viewed Winter Classic game in history.
- Of the six Winter Classics that have been played, five of the contests have featured Eastern Conference foes. It’s time for the NHL to vary their audiences and take some risks by getting the Western Conference in on the action (Note the Detroit Red Wings will be in the next Classic)
- The most logical choice for the match up would obviously be the Blues taking on the Blackhawks at Busch Stadium. Darren Pang recently tweeted during the lockout that officials with Busch stadium and the Cardinals would be all for hosting the event at the stadium.
— Darren R Pang (@Panger40) January 1, 2013
- One of the elements that is obviously delaying this process is the expected TV ratings for the game. The NHL is looking for bigger markets for the games to be hosted in. The first Winter Classic that took place in Buffalo between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres in 2008 had the nation’s 23rd (Pittsburgh) and 51st (Buffalo) rated markets. St. Louis (21) and Chicago (3) would easily beat these other team’s markets, the only question is if the rest of the world would tune in?
- Another obstacle that has recently been keeping the event from taking place in St. Louis is that the Blues simply have been irrelevant in the NHL landscape since the 2004-05 lockout in terms of postseason success. While a division title was won last year, further success such as a Conference title or Stanley Cup win would be needed to be achieve bringing the Classic to St. Louis and the Blues into the nation’s hockey limelight.
- There’s no question that fans would attend the game at new Busch. The excitement and passion for Blues hockey is in full swing this year. Looking at one of the practices during training camp where 10,000 fans attended, there is obviously a buzz in the St. Louis community for the product that has been put in place by the Blues’ ownership staff.
The St. Louis Blues are not the St. Louis Cardinals. An event such as the 2009 MLB All Star Game was an obvious choice for league officials, with the new stadium, a perennial powerhouse Cardinal franchise, and the devoted fans that were sure to come out in droves. Gaining a bid to host the Winter Classic should definitely be one of the top items on the agenda for the Blues’ new ownership group in the coming years. It may not be for a year, 3 years, 5 years, but at least an effort to get the game and let the fans in St. Louis know how important a great event such as this is to them, would be all they need. Even with everything working for them, the fate of this decision may ultimately be up to the Blues, and the success they have, or don’t have in the postseason in the coming years.