Now that we’re going to be able to see all of this happen, in hindsight, someone at NBC or at the NHL will have to think to themselves … why haven’t we thought to do this sooner?
In the end, there might be some criticisms of moving the Winter Classic to primetime at 8:00 PM ET. None of them override the fact that this is ultimately the most beneficial accident that could ever happen to this league. If the adequate masses who tune into the game are informed enough, this could turn into a ratings bonanza relative to the NHL and NBC. It could draw the viewership that the Stanley Cup Final does on the network. Here’s a few reasons why:
1. Football Fans Will Be Fatigued and Have Fewer Games to Choose From
Here was the college football lineup scheduled to face-off against the Winter Classic tomorrow afternoon:
12:00 TicketCity Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Northwestern (ESPNU)
1:00 Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Florida (ABC)
1:00 Capital One Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State (ESPN)
1:30 Gator Bowl: Michigan vs. Mississippi State (ESPN2)
The following is the new competition that the game will face at 8PM ET:
8:00 Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Connecticut
Not only is this game just one football showdown to distract from the popular hockey showcase, but the Big East teams have always been terrible draws in their BCS showdowns, and Connecticut being the worst team to make a BCS bowl doesn’t exactly help, either. If this is the non-contest everyone expects it to be, the NHL could make some real gains today.
Also, getting away from those early games takes Big Ten teams out of the picture, which would have caused ratings trouble in some big hockey markets, like Detroit (vs. Michigan State/Michigan), Chicago (a few for Northwestern) and host Pittsburgh (vs. Penn State). While Connecticut may take some of the northeast, I don’t think we’ll see too many potential viewers lost. Not only this, but the Rose Bowl leading into the Fiesta Bowl (TCU vs. Wisconsin) is a week one. Add that to the fact that the Winter Classic is the only game actually on a network, and this could be good.
Some have been complaining that going up against other hockey games will hurt the Winter Classic. Doubtful. The Classic is once a year, something hockey fans turn into out of curiosity sometimes more than actual desire to watch the game. In fact, I’ll go as far as to predict that NBC will draw more viewers in markets that hockey games are being played in (like New York) than the local teams that are playing that night (like the Rangers and Devils are against Tampa and Carolina). The game could draw 5-6 million viewers.
2. Everybody’s Awake By Now.
You hate to be cynical, but it is hard for some people to wake up on New Year’s Day due to the, er, spirits they consume. By 8PM ET, everybody will be sobered up, or at least ready to start drinking again. The bars will probably have a few visitors to flip between games, and there’ll probably be a big chance for a big audience, which is rare on a Saturday night. New Year’s Day is a huge television day, second only to Thanksgiving on the American calendar.
3. With the Lights On, A New Wrinkle
One of the reasons (perhaps) that the 2010 Winter Classic didn’t do as well as the 2009 one was that it was a bit of a retread. Another legendary baseball stadium. Now, with the NHL going back to football fields, and a new one at that, maybe this is the new feature the league was hoping for. If the weather complies, it’ll look almost like an action movie. Gladiators headed out, under the lights, onto the ice to do battle. If nothing else, 24/7 will have some ridiculous shots.
I hope you’ll all tune in to the Winter Classic Saturday night.