Why a Primetime Winter Classic is the Happiest Accident That Could Happen

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.


13 Responses to Why a Primetime Winter Classic is the Happiest Accident That Could Happen

  1. Josh says:

    To your point about everybody being awake now: yes, yes, yes. Especially for those of us running on PST. To me, a “showcase” event is something that ought to air in the PM across the timezones. Having it at 10am local time here was kind of a drag, and frankly, I was never very interested in making a point to watch it when weighed against my interest in living it up the night before.

  2. Andrew says:

    Great for the NHL, great to not be going against hockey markets whose teams feature in bowl games. Instead of facing some potentially good bowl games with good stories, the NHL and NBC get to go against UConn, on whom Oklahoma might score 70.

    Only bad news is we now lose live coverage here in Australia!!

  3. Rindu Muncie says:

    I’m from the Pacific Time Zone and i’m tired of fellow west coasters ragging on time. By saying it’s too early, they are conceding that the west coast teams should never be in (since the NHL looks at media markets and if people won’t watch because it’s too early, that team won’t be in it).

    As to this change, the problem is NOT just the BCS game competition. It is ALSO the fact that now it’s up against other NHL games. The Winter Classic is diluted when the entire hockey world is not watching the game. The NHL should NEVER schedule ANY games besides the WC on January 1. I don’t care if it’s a Saturday and the NHL doesn’t want to miss 2 saturdays in a row. Since the WC is all about attracting non-hockey casual US sports fans, they aren’t going to understand why this is such a big event when other NHL games are going on at the same time.

    • Josh says:

      I understand what you’re saying Rindu, but I’m speaking from my own experience and some of the experience of my friends when I say that getting up early on New Year’s Day to watch hockey in the morning is really, really not a priority for me. Water and a greasy breakfast and going straight back to bed are top of mind.

      • Rindu Muncie says:

        I understand what you are saying. You are agreeing when NHL and NBC never wants to have Pacific Division teams in the Winter Classic, even as the road team. You are agreeing those teams should never be in the league’s showcase. Thanks for nothing, traitor.

      • Rindu Muncie says:

        Take a look at the SF Bay Area. Warriors game at 4:30pm Pacific, Sharks game at 6:00pm Pacific, and all the other sports options at that time, and people think the “west coast” will have MORE viewers of the Winter Classic? lol

      • Josh says:

        Traitor? Haha – you are way too worked up over this, friend.

  4. Russell says:

    I think ratings should be up because of this change.The Fiesta Bowl is a horrible matchup and while the fact that there will be other NHL games taking place will hurt a little,most hockey fans and a lot of casual sports fans will still watch this game.

    • Rindu Muncie says:

      That completes ignores that casual fans in the US watch the NBA and the NBA has a slate of games tonight. Nice of you to ignore that as well.

      • Josh says:

        There is very, very little crossover between NBA and NHL fans, Rindu. Very different demographics. Nice of you to ignore that as well.

        What is with all your hostility? We’re talking about the scheduling of hockey games, not the death penalty!

  5. Trent says:

    Ya it will be hurt by the fact that hundreds of thousands will be watching their own teams play in New York, LA, Boston, and Buffalo (and others). That will cancel out some of the positives by moving to a later start.

  6. Rindu Muncie says:

    Josh: Nice of you to ignore that the Winter Classic is all about attracting NON-hockey sports fans in the US, i.e. people who like sports other than the NHL. Thus if those people are watching the NBA, they aren’t watching the Winter Classic. Everyone and their grandma knows the Winter Classic is first and foremost the NHL’s attempt to make the NHL more popular in the US (by appealing to non-hockey US sports fans). Only as a second aim is it is a celebration for existing fans.

  7. Rindu Muncie says:

    “Traitor? Haha – you are way too worked up over this, friend.”

    Way to completely dismiss what I said:
    “I understand what you are saying. You are agreeing when NHL and NBC never wants to have Pacific Division teams in the Winter Classic, even as the road team. You are agreeing those teams should never be in the league’s showcase. Thanks for nothing, traitor.”

    Thanks for dismissing a valid point. You know it’s valid and that’s why you resort to saying stuff like “You are too worked up over this.” Nice defensive mechanism buddy, not address the point by making a person jab at the writer of the comment.

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