NHL Winter Classic: Has It Helped Expand the League's Fanbase?

Ryan PickardCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2009

CHICAGO - JANUARY 01:  A general view of action between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings during the NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on January 1, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As most people know, the NHL hasn't been the same since the lockout cancelled the 2004-2005 season.

Before the lockout happened hockey was a pretty popular sport, but popularity was declining. When the lockout actually happened it pushed popularity down even more and it hasn't been the same.

Popularity continues to decline since the league doesn't have a very good television contract.

They have two different carriers right now. Versus carries NHL games usually on Monday and Tuesday—but many people don't get Versus since it is not a cable channel. NBC also covers hockey games but they only cover games on Sundays and not until after New Year's Day.

This is where the Winter Classic comes in.

If there was ever something that could help expand popularity it would be a game played outdoors. The Winter Classic will be played for the third time this year at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

The first game was played between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was played on January 1, 2008 and set a record for attendance to an NHL game with 71,217 fans taking in the game.

This first game's tickets were sold out within the first 30 minutes they were released to the public. The game also set a record for the most watched NHL game since 1996.

The game was played again on January 1, 2009 at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. The game sold out again very quickly but had less seats, since Wrigley seats less than Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The television ratings increased by 12 percent compared to the previous year's game, and was watched by 4.4 million people.

The success of the Winter Classic has led to it becoming an annual event played each year.

The Classic has clearly helped in bringing in new NHL fans. The casual fan who would normally watch hockey usually only during the playoffs now watches during the regular season as well.

One of the best parts about the game is it brings back a lot of old traditions.

The two teams that are playing wear their throwback uniforms which are always a treat. The Penguins wore their powder blues which are a sight to see. The Red Wings went as far back to 1926 when they were known as the Detroit Cougars.

While hockey will most likely never become the top watched sport in the U.S., it will definitely begin to rise in popularity with the help of the Winter Classic.

My question to everyone here is do you plan on watching the Winter Classic and has it peaked your interest in the NHL?