Each year around this time writers fill up newspaper space and blog posts with lists for future venues for the NHL Winter Classic game. These filler pieces are at best unimaginative, and at worst full of suggestions that would kill the Winter Classic.
A big reason the NHL outdoor game has become an instant classic is the choice of historic venue. This year it is at Fenway Park. Last year it was at Wrigley Field. Those two stadiums are among the most famous in the world.
Beaver Stadium? Ohio State Stadium? The Rogers Center? It doesn't take much effort to name some stadiums with big seating capacities, now does it?
We need to stick the true classic stadiums to keep the event unique. Yankee Stadium, even if it is brand new now, is obvious. It is still America's most famous and perhaps most important stadium. Invesco Field in Denver isn't historic per se, but is legendary for the noise level. Camden Yards in Baltimore is not exactly a hockey market, but it is a wonderful venue. Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin would be interesting, too.
Another reason for the game's success would be it's association with it's wintery roots. That means much more than just playing the game outside, but playing it in snowy, cold conditions, like in Buffalo in 2007, or in frigid Edmonton in the NHL's first outdoor game, then known as the Heritage Classic.
Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami? You can't have a "Winter Classic" in the sunshine, folks. Give me cold college football stadiums from Michigan or Minnesota first. At least there is good hockey tradition there.
The Winter Classic has captured the American sporting attention, but it has a limited shelf life. There are only so many legendary stadiums in a limited selection of large television markets to host the game. Holding the game in generic stadiums, no matter how big, will eventually dull the event's luster. The warm climate venues would do so even quicker.
How does the NHL extend the life of the Winter Classic? One day the NHL should start considering holding the event in new, truly unique locations. They may have to sacrifice the seating capacities and maybe even American soil for the television drawing card.
The Russians have had out door games in Red Square. How about a Winter Classic in New York's Central Park? The lawn of the White House? Up to Alaska? How about a European venue? A game in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or near the Charles Bridge in Prague? Do they do anything with the Colosseum in Rome nowadays? Perhaps in a mountain setting, such as world famous ski resort? They could do that easily in Colorado.
Now those are Winter Classics I would watch, even without the large crowds.
The league knows the Winter Classic can only go so far in the States, perhaps that is why rumors have it there will be a second outdoor game in 2011 in Canada. All six teams are interested in holding the event, with Calgary's McMahon Stadium seems to be the most likely host.
Why not try something even bigger? I don't know the logistics of it all, and it may take some serious help from mother nature, but what about a game on Ottawa's Rideau Canal? Or Long Pond in Nova Scotia, where some people believe hockey was born? How about in the Canadian Rockies or Whistler.
The NHL would never do that though. Despite all of the talk about celebrating the game's roots, the NHL would never sacrifice American television ratings by hosting the game in Canada or Europe, you know, where the game's roots lie. No, they would rather bang their head against the brick wall known as the non-existent rich American television deal they've been chasing since the dawn of television itself. They will continue to let NBC call the shots, even though the NBC television agreement generates revenues for the NHL of next to nothing.
The idea of 50,000 people sitting outside watching a hockey game is part of the Winter Classic's draw, but is it the most important piece of the puzzle? If the NHL can get a historic setting in a large television market and get Mother Nature to help out with a timely snowstorm, you have a television success.
The NHL may have to sacrifice the large crowds and maybe even American venues to keep the Winter Classic a classic.