Dear Hockey Fans: Please Don’t Ruin a Potential Pittsburgh/Washington Classic

Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the following yesterday:

A few details still have to be addressed, but things are falling into place for the Penguins and Washington to play the NHL’s 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field Jan. 1.

There is no word on when an official announcement will come. The NHL traditionally does not make one until mid-summer, around the time the coming season’s schedule is released.

Neither the Penguins nor the league will confirm that the game will played here.

That game should be fun.  It would be some of the league’s biggest superstars in what is budding into the NHL’s new Colorado/Detroit, just with less crazy and less toughness.  It’s a somewhat non-traditional rivalry between two teams in pretty big markets with fan bases that have never been more into their teams.  The Penguins may be more popular now than they were in the Lemieux years, and the Caps are much more attractive in DC than they were when competing for a Stanley Cup.

Point is, this game should be a celebration about all things great in hockey, and a definite reaction to the pretty crappy game played this season.  Let’s admit it, the Philadelphia-Boston classic on the most recent New Year’s Day was a snoozer for about 55 minutes, saved by a late goal and an Overtime thrill.

But it won’t be fun.  Hockey diehards won’t allow you and me to enjoy this game.  From the Twitter debates between many bloggers since Molinari broke the story, the words on either side of the debate – whether or not Pittsburgh should be in a 2nd classic in four seasons – have been flat-out groan inducing.  People thinking the NHL has a duty to other teams to get them involved, a duty to the fans to show them some variety.

It’s all a load of crap.  The NHL doesn’t owe anything to it’s teams in this case.  This is something the league puts down a ton of money for, and the 2010 Classic showed that – while it can be a merchandising bonanza – it’s not ready to stand on it’s own merits without star-laden teams.  Washington-Pittsburgh would likely come close to doubling the ratings from the Philly-Boston game on NBC, and maybe even do better ratings than some of the college bowl games, unless Penn State’s involved.

As for the fan aspects?  Please, the fans haven’t proven to this league that they’re willing to watch anyone but the Penguins and Capitals.  Look at the ratings, you don’t want to see Rangers/Bruins.  Hell, you didn’t even want to watch Flyers/Bruins this year.  The fact is, hockey fans (and a few “casual” ones) aren’t tuning in for more than a few teams, lets allow the league to capitalize on their ability to draw.

Look at it this way, Penguins/Capitals in 2011 is a chance for the NHL to stabilize the Winter Classic as a TV brand.  I know the league has plans to go to Minnesota in 2012.  While there is a wonderful hockey following in the State of… well, hockey, they are far from a sexy TV team.  A Pens/Caps classic brings the rating up to a point where it becomes a yearly blockbuster, regardless of teams, perhaps even to the point where a Canadian club could get inolved.  Haha, just kidding with you.  That’ll never happen.

Remember, the NHL also needs to sweeten the classic as a TV product to draw interest from networks to air the event in future years.  As I am often asked, the NHL’s TV deals in the United States come to an end after next season, so negotiations with numerous networks will likely come to a massive peak in the month between the Winter Classic and the All-Star break.  Getting a network to buy into the event means promoting it like the dickens, and finally getting a little cash for doing this thing.

So, a plea to my fellow diehard puckhead:  Just shut up about this.  Go with the flow, and try to enjoy yourself when the inevitable Crosby/Ovechkin showdown at the house of the terrible towels happens.  It’ll be a heck of a ride if you just allow yourself to have fun.  Don’t worry about overexposure.  Just worry about some good hockey.

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

7 Responses to Dear Hockey Fans: Please Don’t Ruin a Potential Pittsburgh/Washington Classic

  1. Ummm….the NHL brought this upon itself. By spending so much time trying to develop its own “Bird and Magic” rivalry, it has alienated the rest of the league’s fans.

    They can’t fix things in time for this coming year, so Pens-Caps is the best they can get right now. That being said, I’d love to see the league start spending 50% of the time that they spend on Sid-Ovie and start aggressively marketing its other stars to get themselves out of this marketing corner in which they’ve boxed themselves.

    Specifically, I’d look West. Way west. Part of the beauty of the Boston-LA NBA rivalry was the east coast-west coast aspect. Pittsburgh-Washington lacks that. Why not start REALLY promoting the Sharks, Kings or Ducks? All of those teams have star power, and 2 of the 3 are really good right now.

    Don’t forget, the schedule has proven that the West is a superior conference to the East right now. That NBC ignores the West (outside of Detroit and Chicago) is puzzling and frustrating.

    • Josh says:

      Dark Blue: I suspect part of it has to do with timezones. Often, NBC carries a three-hour PGA window from 3-6pm ET on weekends, meaning that on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the NHL game basically needs to start at noon or 12:30.

      If NBC put a west coast team in the game of the week, it would come with one of two consequences:
      1. The game would actually *be* out west, and you wouldn’t be able to start it at noon, because that would be 9am PST. Can’t start it later because, like I said, PGA.
      2. You basically sacrifice a local market, because if you have, say, San Jose play at Detroit, the game is going to start at noon or so, yeah, but only the hardcore Sharks fans are getting up at 9am (on a *Sunday*) to watch hockey. So, you lose most of the casual hockey fans from the west coast market.

      It sucks, for sure, but for now, the PGA still gets way, way better ratings than the NHL, which means that it gets the plum time slots, meaning that most weeks, NBC has no choice but to put two east coast teams in the game.

  2. john says:

    if this happens, i hope they can pull off a canadian outdoor game for a double header. in regards to promoting the west coast teams: in order to do that, those teams have to do something. the league shouldn’t waste time marketing crap and thats what the sharks have given us during the post season; the kings are coming around, however, still unproven; and, the ducks, while a stanley cup champion that has two legends, they have only begun to shake the disney stank off. Give them one or two more dramatic exciting series against the wings, before they deserve to be put into something like this. As for the rest, the aves are still rebuilding, the blues are crap, stars are crap, i won’t mention the jets are canadian. Till we see a sweet cup final with the drama of the caps-pens, detriot-pens, leave those west coast teams on the fringe.

  3. C.J. Richey says:

    I don’t see how a Caps/Pens match-up helps the Winter Classic. The match-up is already proven it can get ratings. The WC needs to prove it can get ratings without help from a certain match-up.

    Also I’m pretty sick of hearing/watching the Caps/Pens so I wouldn’t watch this game.

  4. E says:

    Although I think Caps/Pens would be great, I think it is more fair to have 2 teams that have not participated in the Winter Classic. I think Rangers/Caps would be a great game. Also, does anyone know if they are going to have an outdoor game in Canada next season?

  5. Colton says:

    People think that the NHL is holding itself back because of poor management and such. But it’s really the fans who are holding it back because of their tribal attitude and the insecurity they feel.

    Whenever the NHL does something positive, the fans critizise them because it isn’t what THEY want.

    If they are ever going to grow, they need to market their top stars. This is what people have been clammoring for, for years. Now they’re doing it and people get mad. It’s ridiculous.

  6. Caps Nut says:

    The problem with your logic is that the networks that would be competing for the NHL’s TV Rights know that the Caps-Penguin Scum/ Captain A.O. vs. Captain Lowblow matchup is the best the league has to offer.

    Yes a Pittsburgh-Washington Winter Clunker would draw great ratings for the franchise but it wouldn’t fool anybody into thinking that the NHL had turned into some sort of hot property.

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