The Winter Classic

Jeff SummersCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2012

Have you ever gone to a restaurant or a party and in walks a beautiful woman and the guy next to her looks like he is one brain cell away from being the missing link? And you think to yourself, “How in the world did that guy ever get her to go out with him?” That in a nutshell describes my confusion around the “Winter Classic”.

Each New Years Day the National Hockey League holds an outdoor hockey game at a dormant Major League Baseball Stadium. Normally the teams involved have some long-standing rivalry or features some of the games brightest young stars.

Now before we go much further please remember that I am at heart a diehard baseball fan so naturally Major League Baseball would be the hot girl while the National Hockey League would be playing the part of the not so handsome guy with the great date. This is not meant to be a slam on hockey so please stop all plans to find me and body-check me into the boards. My point was not that hockey is Cinderella’s ugly stepsister of sports. The comparison was merely to describe how out of place these two seem to be and how fans are left wondering how in the world did they ever get hooked up.

This year’s Winter Classic was held in Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia and featured the hometown Flyers against their hated rival the New York Rangers. To be honest I have no idea whether they are hated rivals, I am merely going on the fact that the commercials leading up to the game and during the contest tried to build drama around these two clubs. There is also the fact that at least in baseball there is little love lost between Philly fans and New York fans whether they root for the Mets or Yankees. Well for that matter Philadelphia fans seem to dislike pretty much everyone and anyone including Santa Claus but that’s a different story.

What I find interesting is the partnership between MLB and the NHL. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of demographics that cross these two sports other than the fact that both groups spend disposable dollars watching sporting events.

In Arizona at least I am not aware of any cross selling going on between the Coyotes and the Diamondbacks. This may be because the Coyotes are up to their necks in drama on their own and don’t seem to have a good message about the future of the sport in this town.

The fascination is how well the Winter Classic is managed. In nearly all cases the weather has been a factor during these outdoor games. Whether it is raining or there are mild temperatures causing ice problems or there is wind and snow making it miserable to sit in the stands you would think it would dampen the interest in this game.

Baseball stadiums are not generally built with a hockey configuration in mind meaning that the fans are far removed from the playing surface making it nearly impossible to see the action or the puck for that matter. Regardless though the Winter Classic draws large crowds and actually holds a decent television audience.

On more than one occasion I have heard viewers ponder how great it would be if the Winter Classic was played in their hometown baseball stadium. To date all of the Winter Classics have happened in the Eastern Time zone or as far west as Chicago and Wrigley Field. When asked about the possibility that the game may be moved farther west the NHL officials state that they feel their best audience would be when the game is played at or before 1 PM EST.

This likely has to do with the fact that the television audience and perhaps the fans who would buy tickets are only interested in this game if it doesn’t compete with the College Football bowl games on New Years Day. Regardless of the reasoning it does beg the question, what would the Winter Classic be like if it was played at Chase Field in Phoenix?

Can you even imagine what it would be like to see a hockey rink in the middle of the infield at Chase Field? How dramatic would it be to watch the roof open before the puck drops and don’t you want to see some rabid hockey fans dressed in Speedo swimming suits at the Chase Field swimming pool lounging around between periods? Ok maybe we don’t want to see that last part.

Still it does make you wonder whether the NHL and MLB could find other ways to work together and make this relationship work. If for no other reason than to have people ask how the heck those two met and why are they dating.