January 2, 2010 :: 9:46pm ET
Kings of Queens?
The 2012 Winter Classic
might be a big challenge for the NHL.
LOS ANGELES, CA -- Not only did the NHL
dodge a bullet by getting a rain-soaked Winter Classic completed on
New Year's Night, it pulled off a Hail Mary at Heinz Field.
The Classic drew an average of 4.56
million viewers and although losing in overall numbers in the timeslot
to the Fiesta Bowl on ESPN, it won the coveted 18-49 demographic.
Despite having to shift the game to the evening inside of a 24 hour
window, the continued success of the special event creates more
intrigue and speculation for the 2012 version.
When the New Year's Day game launched in
Buffalo, the league ownership was unaware of the bonanza it would be;
it was far more a risk than a sure thing. Since 2009, it's been a
valuable bone that's been tossed the way of influential owners like
Rocky Wirtz, Jeremy Jacobs and, this year, Mario Lemieux.
Given that modus operandi, it's no
surprise that Philadelphia appears near the top of the list. Flyers'
owner Ed Snider, one of the old guards, would welcome a game at either
Citizens Bank Ballpark or Lincoln Financial Field. The Flyers are one
of the best run franchises in professional sports and there's little
doubt their presentation would be first class.
The co-favorite on the morning line is New York for varying reasons.
Logistically, it would be easy for the
league executives to manage the Classic for their mid-town Manhattan
offices and their broadcast partner, NBC, is just down the block. The
potential matchup most discussed at the early stages is a Los Angeles
Kings vs. New York Rangers matchup, giving the game play in the two
largest U.S. media markets and rewards a major player in Cablevision's
Jim Dolan, the owner of the company that controls the Rangers.
The New York setting gives rise to more
intrigue than the City of Brotherly Love due in part to the recent
history of venues and will impact where the game would be eventually
Sources reported that in 2009 the Yankees ownership wanted the Winter
Classic very badly for the opening season of the new Yankee Stadium.
When they lost the game they were disappointed, but upon learning they
lost to the arch rival Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park it put a very
bitter taste in the Steinbrenner family's collective mouths.
Not soon after the Classic was tapped for
Beantown, the New Yorkers made plans for the Pinstripe Bowl, a
marginal college football bowl game (for the uninformed, Kansas State
played Syracuse) and creating the effect of rendering the new palace
unavailable in the short term.
So with the first option unavailable, most
observers think that the 80,000+ seat new Meadowlands Stadium is next
in line in the New York market.
The staging of the game in New Jersey gets
really tricky, from both a logistical and --believe it or not--
With the Meadowlands housing both the
NFL's Giants and Jets, and the requirement of the venue being vacated
for two weeks for the build, it's not likely the NFL would allow a
competitive league to displace two New York franchises on back-to-back
weekends. To further muddy the waters, sources say the landlord, the
State of New Jersey, is pushing the NHL so hard for the inclusion of
the Devils in the Classic that they wouldn't allow the game to be
contested there without them. Given the disaster that the Devils are
at present, it's seems impossible for them to be included in a
showcase league event inside of the next 12 months.
The third option is the easiest venue for the game to be staged and is
likely to emerge as the leading contender as the months roll on, the
Mets' new home, Citi Field.
Though located in Queens, New York, it's a
quick ride over the East River from mid-town Manhattan. Even if the
Mets were to arise from the ashes and play in the World Series, there
would be no conflict of dates with competing events and the area could
easily have a week's worth of events staged, including the alumni game
and a fan festival.
The fans visiting from out of town would
likely get an additional benefit by staying in a Queens hotel then in
insanely expensive midtown accommodations.
While league execs stand to sell 40,000
more seats in New Jersey than at Citi Field, they'll happily take
increase revenues from higher advertising rates culled from the
ratings of this year. The league stands to get far more cooperation
from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City if the game is staged
within the five boroughs than across the Hudson River.
All that leaves is the tricky circumstance of actually WHEN to stage
While the NHL slew the college bowl dragon
of New Year's Day, there's the specter of January 1 falling on a
Sunday in 2012. While NBC execs drool at the possibility of a night
game in the metro New York area, they have a Sunday Night Football
contract to contend with. The question that millions of dollars hang
in the balance on is whether the NHL would risk going head-to-head
with CBS and FOX on Sunday at 1PM in what stands to be the last game
of the NFL regular season.
If the NHL takes a beating in that potential ratings war, it runs the
risk of shifting an event that's in fifth gear into neutral. Despite
the fan popularity of the game, the Winter Classic is truly driven by
revenues derived from the sales of network advertising. Lower ratings
for the 2012 Winter Classic means lower ad rates for 2013 and the
league's mission is to grow an event that's become its crown jewel.
A scenario that works best would be a slight shift in the winning
formula, a New Year's Eve contest would intrigue NBC and fans alike.
The concerns of a night contest (other than precipitation) were
minimized in Pittsburgh and there's little competition from a sports
programming standpoint on the Eve. Fans could have the ability to
enjoy the game and then hit Times Square to ring in the New Year, a
package the NHL could highly promote.
Who knows, maybe you'll see Gary Bettman
and Bill Daly hit the button to bring down the ball to ring in 2012
with Mayor Bloomberg in Times Square?
Dennis Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media and an NHL Analyst with ESPN Radio, is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine and a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com. You can also visit
Dennis on Twitter.