Five Reasons the Winter Classic Will Bounce Back in 2013

When we look back on it, the ratings numbers for the 2011 Winter Classic won’t seem in any way a disaster. Considering the median rating for these games has been a 2.6, a 2.4 is hardly anything to go crazy about in either direction. The fact is, the numbers are great for hockey against truly tough traditional competition. It is double what likely any other hockey game will draw this year until the conference finals.

That said, the concern about Winter Classic ratings going down will be there for some, and will almost definitely be there in the Canadian media, which has waited to pounce all over the event that refuses to include any of the nation’s teams. I have faith that we have no reason to worry about next year’s event, and can expect a bounceback. Here’s five reasons why.

1. New Year’s Day

January 1st appears to simply be a cache day that people associate with certain events. The Rose Bowl, associated with New Year’s Day in not just a football sense, but with the Tournament of Roses parade, suffered from the move to January 2nd, as it’s ratings went down 15% in the event’s second showing on ESPN. The game between Wisconsin and Oregon drew a 9.9, whereas TCU and Wisconsin drew an 11.7 on New Year’s Day 2011.

Meanwhile, the Outback Bowl, typically played on New Year’s Day and for the last two seasons on ABC, saw a similar tumble. The game between Georgia and Michigan State drew a 5.0, down 35% from the 7.6 scored by Florida and Penn State on New Year’s Day 2011. Meanwhile, the Fiesta Bowl, an event not necessarily noted for taking place on New Year’s, went up 34% from last year’s event. The Winter Classic appears to be an event more in line with the former, in that it’s simply associated with January 1st. Next year’s game falls on a Tuesday, a day off for much more than January 2nd was today, meaning the league should be fine.

2. The Detroit Red Wings

There was talk all around the Winter Classic about future hosting sites, though I can’t quite recall such a clearly defined favorite as the Detroit Red Wings are for 2013, which will either take place at the University of Michigan (and it’s 100,000+ seat capacity) or the Illitch-owned Comerica Park. The Red Wings have participated in the Winter Classic before in 2009, when they were the visitors to Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Other than Washington, Detroit was probably the most active road market in Winter Classic ratings. So think of what you’ll get when the event comes here?

Detroit is really the league’s ideal city: a big market with lots of people who care about hockey. Hockey has always been beloved and appreciated in Detroit, even on television, where the numbers got into the 20’s and 30’s for their two Stanley Cup Final match-ups with the Penguins a few years back. I have no doubt that a Winter Classic in Michigan would draw astronomically well in Detroit. While Philadelphia did just fine as a host market this year, it’s hard not to see the Red Wings finding a way to at least double, if not triple, the local ratings of Philly, which will automatically put the classic on more solid ratings ground.

3. A Better Road Market

I love my local area here in Northern New Jersey, the haven of many residents in the New York television market, but we may be too fragmented for an event like the Winter Classic, at least on a road team scale. Clearly, that turned out to be true, as the 4.3 rating – which is still close to 300,000 viewers and would have been a much bigger number in any other market and likely the highest-rated game here since the lockout – rang a little weak to some.

That said, the plan has to be to find a better potential road market for next year. Some have suggested the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I have to think that the NHL will back off putting a Canadian team in at least until they get the ratings on an upswing again. Others have thought maybe the San Jose Sharks, using the Wings drawing power to finally get a west coast team into this. Again, gotta’ think they’ll look closer to home until ratings move up the needle.

I’ve been petitioning this for a little while, but I think the St. Louis Blues would be the perfect choice. There’s no nostalgia more valuable than 1990’s nostalgia right now, and other than the Avalanche, the Blues were Detroit’s biggest rival of that decade. You could have the Blues in their wacky old blue and red blue-note uniforms, and the Wings could wear those Detroit Cougars jerseys they put on in 2009, though slightly altered so they could still sell. St. Louis has drawn really good ratings for the Blues even in years the team has been bad. Now they look headed for a playoff spot under Ken Hitchcock and popular American captain David Backes. Now would seem to be the time to catch the Blues while they’re rising back to the NHL elite.

4. Away from the NFL

I went to the Alumni Game on Saturday and then the Giants-Cowboys NFL game on Sunday before attending the Winter Classic on Monday, and it was hard not to feel a bit worn out after three days like that. Not only will next year keep the alumni game and Winter Classic (presumably) on back-to-back days, they’ll be clear of the NFL, which doesn’t play a Monday night game on that weekend. Keeping the league from letting Winter Classic weekend from being swallowed whole by week 17 football proved challenging, and steering clear of it next year will be helpful.

5. The NHL has done this before

In 2010, we saw a drop in Winter Classic ratings for the Flyers and Bruins, as the game went from a 2.9 in 2009 to a 2.6 in 2010. The NHL immediately started planning a way to bring it back up, and did so successfully by putting the Penguins and Capitals together the next year at Heinz Field, to the tune of a 2.8 rating. Did being in primetime help that? Possibly, but I find it hard to believe that the outdoor battle of Crosby and Ovechkin wouldn’t have beaten the then-nondescript Bruins and the then-flailing Flyers (out of the playoff race at that time, mind you).

I have faith that the NHL will find the right match-up and the right promotional tools to do this properly next year, and make the ratings go back up. It’s a combination of all the things I’ve previously listed, but largely under the umbrella of the NHL just having a knack for getting the Winter Classic right. As I walked through spectator plaza at Citizens’ Bank Park yesterday, I saw thousands of people walking through and purchasing gear and other things. When you see that many people this interested in a hockey game, you can’t believe the NHL wouldn’t find a way to continue to grow the event in person and on the TV screen.


6 Responses to Five Reasons the Winter Classic Will Bounce Back in 2013

  1. Stephen says:

    The Red Wings will play in the Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Their opponent will be the Colorado Avalanche.

    Trust me, the Alumni game will be even better next year and the ratings will go up in next year’s outdoor game.

  2. Sean says:

    WC is dead

  3. The biggest reason that the Winter Classic had such abysmal ratings is because the rest of the continent is simply tired of the constant barrage of Rangers-Flyers on national tv. Since the NHL has been on national tv in the US, no pairing has been shown more often. It is like the league is forcing these two loathsome teams down our throats (very much like Pens-Caps) and they’re no longer worth watching, even if the game itself is entertaining. The evening pairing (San Jose-Vancouver) would have made a far more palatable Winter Classic game however the league is still loath to admit that there is a viewing market for any team west of Chicago.

  4. Dfash says:

    Seems to me that the key to keeping the ratings up in the winter classic is to quit having the Flyers participate. (Ratings dips both times)

  5. Albert says:

    Monday on January 2nd at 3 PM. Enough said. Any teams in that time slot are challenged to find ratings numbers. No need to bash the Philly local market or NY for that matter.

  6. Eddie says:

    Colorado and Detroit will do excellent. You’ll have a team representing east and west. Colorado is a pretty good sports town. Detroit and Colorado have history. It’ll do better next year Sean.

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