Is a Winter Classic in Central Park Possible?

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Is a Winter Classic in Central Park Possible?
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
fenway WC

An artist's rendition has the rink stretching from home plate into center field. (Boston Herald)

A yearly Winter Classic is a great thing for the NHL to have, but what happens a few years from now when they’ve played in a baseball or football stadium for 5-6 years straight?  The appeal of the game will dissipate and fewer people are going to tune in.

The NHL is going to have to start looking for different, unique venues to host this game if they want to keep it fresh.  And no, I’m not talking about sending the Rangers out to Alaska.

Back in January, Greg Wyshinsky at Puck Daddy wrote about the KHL’s All-Star Game.  The game was held outdoors in Moscow’s Red Square.

Wysh floated the idea that the NHL’s Winter Classic might have to eventually move away from the baseball and football fields:

"After the triumph at Wrigley, the NHL has a rather logical Winter Classic path in front of it — through Boston and New York, through Happy Valley and Denver, through Minnesota and Detroit. At some point, just to break up the stadium monotony, the notion of playing the game in some sort of untraditional environment will likely be considered.

Like The Mall in DC (and don’t think freezing the Reflecting Pool hasn’t crossed a few minds in the District, no matter how foolhardy the notion). Or Central Park. Or the side of some Colorado mountain. Or some frozen tundra in Minnesota that’ll make the conditions in Buffalo seem like Maui by comparison. In any event, the number of fans that can be crammed into temporary seating for such a game would probably be closer to the KHL’s crowd than Wrigley’s."

While Wysh might have been joking about an outdoor game at Central Park in NYC, why not explore whether or not it is actually plausible to hold an NHL regular season game there?

east-72nd-st-lake-skating-race_neg33034_ca-1928

Ice skating race on The Lake circa 1928. (NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation)

Central Park, for those that don’t know, is located right in the middle of the island of Manhattan and could potentially be a great location for an outdoor NHL game in the future.  There are two potential locations in Central Park to build the rink: The Lake and The Great Lawn.

Until the construction of Wollman Rink in 1951, The Lake served as the center of ice skating in the park as far back as the 1850’s and was even the site of at least one curling competition (pdf).  While it would be great to literally bring the game back to its roots by playing a game on an actual body of water, the perimeter is almost entirely lined with trees which would make it very difficult to set up seating for fans to watch the game.

The better choice to play a hockey game within Central Park is The Great Lawn.  Coming in at over 500,000 square feet (almost nine football fields) and in the shape of an oval, the Great Lawn is the perfect “untraditional” location to set up a Winter Classic.  While it is unlikely to break any attendance records, you can bank on the fact that it would attract a lot of attention.

When it comes to setting up a Winter Classic, I would imagine there are some criteria for a location to be eligible to host the game.  Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park thinks that the three most important criteria are:

  1. Top Ten TV Market
  2. Large Capacity Stadium
  3. Big name players

Let’s see.  New York is definitely one of the top ten TV markets in the country and the Rangers will always have big name players.  The problem with this Central Park idea seems to always come to capacity.  As it is, there’s standing room only.  The NHL would have to call in a company to erect temporary seating to surround the rink.

As Scotty Hockey says:

"Central Park is an impossibility – no permanent stands, no infrastructure (bathrooms, etc), no national draw. New Yorkers may think that the park is something special but elsewhere, who cares about a spit of land – everyone else has that. If the Winter Classic comes to NY it will be in Yankee Stadium (for the name) or out in what will be the new Giants Stadium (for the capacity)."

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is an impossibility. Central Park has been the site of many large gatherings (See: Simon and Garfunkel, Dave Matthews Band).  If the Great Lawn could handle half a million people, I think it could handle 15,000 people (if that) and a hockey rink.

Greg Wyshynski from Puck Daddy brings up the same issue, capacity:

"I think the criteria should concern the marketability of the venue—Buffalo was a mulligan because it was the first edition, but going forward the NHL should opt for either iconic venues or huge capacities.  Central Park has the first, but not the second. It’s the same issue as using the Mall in DC—the Winter Classic needs 30,000 plus in the stands to really make it special. Can you do that in Central Park?"

I would say no, no you can’t.  But if the NHL did opt to go with Central Park, would anybody be expecting 30,000 seats to be built?  If the NHL was smart, they would market it as really going back to the roots.  As close to the pond as you can get.  They would make it a cozy, exclusive event.

"But the real issue—can you justify holding a game in Central Park over a game in Yankee Stadium with that capacity and fame?"

Yankee Stadium as everyone thinks of it, no longer exists.  That place is currently being torn down.  The current Yankee Stadium is just a Stadium where the Yankees happen to play.

From Cameron Frye:

"Name recognition and historical significance are two biggies.  The Winter Classic isn’t about hockey, it’s a place to be and to be a part of something.

When they first started talking about bringing the Winter Classic to Boston, they were tossing around the idea at having at Harvard Stadium or Gillette Stadium.  Which would be cool, but it doesn’t have the same feeling as say Fenway Park.

Fenway is the oldest ballpark, it’s a historical landmark!  We live in a country that hates anything old and tears it down if everyone thinks it’s past its time. I would rather see the Winter Classic played in a setting such as Central Park, then the new Yankee Stadium."

Sure, Derek Jeter may have broken Lou Gehrig’s all time hits record in the new stadium, but Gehrig never considered himself, “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” in the new stadium; Don Larsen, David Wells, and David Cone never threw perfect games at the new Yankee Stadium; the Red Sox never overcame a three games to none series deficit to continue on to the World Series in the new stadium.

great lawn winterThe point is, there’s little to no history at the new Yankee Stadium and it wouldn’t be the same as holding a Winter Classic in the original Yankee Stadium while it was still open.

While Central Park might not be the optimal location for a Winter Classic based on attendance numbers, it has the chance to be something unique.  Something special.  And I would much rather see the Rangers break the mold by playing in a Winter Classic on the Great Lawn in Central Park.  Not follow suit by playing in Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, or Giants Stadium.

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