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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 contested.

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-- political perspective.

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 the game.

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.


 

 

Archives:
Dec. 17, 2010 The Price is Correct
Nov. 16, 2010 Sweet Blues under the Arch
Nov. 01, 2010 A Fine Mess
Oct. 07, 2010 Two Bucks on Canucks
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