As we found out Friday, this year’s game between the Blackhawks and Capitals holds the distinction of being the lowest rated in Winter Classic history. The next event on the NHL calendar is also one that tends to fall flat in the ratings – the All-Star Game.
This got me thinking. Why not combine the two?
One of the biggest complaints about the Winter Classic is that we’re now starting to see the same players and same teams in the games; all that’s changing is the location.
This is true because the NHL has to sell the game to the general television viewing public based on:
1) The historic location
2) Star power
They might try to emphasize the rivalry aspect, but really, to those who don’t follow hockey, hearing the name Sidney Crosby is going to resonate more than ‘Team X’ vs. ‘Team Y’ hating each other since the dawn of time.
Best way to resolve that? Put all the stars in one place, outdoors, in January, but not on New Year’s day.
Let’s tackle the date first. The NHL has to concede New Year’s Day to college football.
The only way the NHL could win the TV ratings battle against the college football playoff is to put the Winter Classic on the moon, which would be awesome, but highly unlikely.
The anticipation alone of the college football playoff games destroyed any hype surrounding the Winter Classic. And now that both playoff games were successful, the NHL will have to fight an uphill battle for years to come because the non-hockey crazed part of the U.S. audience, the eyeballs they need to capture, will still pick college football over hockey.
This year’s NHL All-Star Game on January 25th goes right up against the NFL Pro Bowl; two of the least competitive events in all of professional sports. NFL players don’t like going to it, even more so now that it’s in Arizona (site of the Super Bowl), and not Hawaii. I wouldn’t be completely shocked to hear the NHL players aren’t huge fans of attending the All-Star Game in, say, Columbus, when they could be at home resting with their families.
By taking the All-Star Game outside, the star players from teams that wouldn’t otherwise get an outdoor game will have the opportunity to experience it, too. It also acts as an incentive for them to not accidentally ‘pull a hamstring’ after the final game before the All-Star break. The draw to the public is there because these are the best of the best NHL players from the entire league. Fans of all teams are welcome.
The re-imagined All-Star weekend would be treated much like Major League Baseball’s. There would still be a fantasy draft, indoors off-site, or outside in a concert-like setting in the middle of the Fan Fair activities out front of the arena; making it like the environment and atmosphere in front of Air Canada Centre when the Leafs make the playoffs. Hard to remember, I know.
Like usual, the skills competition is held in the outdoor stadium the day before the actual game. To get more bang for your buck for those that attend, the league could throw in an ‘NHL Futures’ scrimmage of rookies and sophomores, an All-Star alumni game, and something new (my personal favorite), Rock ’n’ Jock hockey. You know Jeremy Roenick, Matthew Perry, and Cuba Gooding Jr. would be all over that!
The following day is the actual game. Yes, the All-Star Game isn’t like a ‘real’ NHL game. There aren’t fights and hits. But riddle me this: what is the league always looking to do each season with rule changes? Primarily, increase offense. The All-Star Game is all about offense. It’s fun to watch great players play pond hockey and try to score trick shot goals. At least it’s better than Pro Bowl football that has the intensity of … nothing. I can’t think of anything because the “football game” is mind-numbingly horrible.
In this new format, the NHL is given the freedom to pick locations other than those with resident NHL franchises. Lambeau Field, anyone? How about Seattle at either Safeco Field (Mariners) or CenturyLink Field (Seahawks)? Gillette Stadium in New England? Keeping the ASG on the weekend prior to the Super Bowl allows for the NHL to pick a place ahead of time without having to worry about if the resident NFL team makes a playoff run. As a last resort, they could push it back to a week after the Super Bowl.
Since we know who the All-Stars are going to be way ahead of time, the NHL can still do an EPIX-esque series following some of the All-Stars around for a couple weeks. Many of them will face each other on the ice in the time leading up to the ASG, so there’s a story line right there. I’m sure everyone wants to hear what Corey Perry says on the ice to other players and vice versa because you know it’s probably terrible.
The push back on this idea is going to come from the owners, natch.
By allowing the NHL to go outside for the All-Star Game, the owners (and the cities they are in) are relinquishing the cash that comes along with hosting the game.
However, there doesn’t have to be a complete abandonment of a host team if the game is played in a different city. For example, the Canucks could host an All-Star Game in Seattle because of their proximity to one another. Granted it won’t be the same amount of money if they hosted in their home arena, but if they can squeeze more people in a larger arena, that will help make up the difference.
As evidenced by the 2014 Stadium Series, the NHL isn’t opposed to doing multiple outdoor games in one season. For all the purists out there, additional ‘regular’ outdoor game(s) can be inserted in the schedule as the league sees fit, just not on New Year’s Day.
So there you go, a plan to refresh the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game. I look forward to seeing you all in 2016 at LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans.
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