Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 1/3/12
The Winter Classic is the NHLs best American marketing tool. Better than points leader Claude Giroux, who might as well be Claude Gir-who outside the Northeast and the Midwest. Better than the RedWings-Blackhawks, Rangers-Flyers or Bruins-Canadiens rivalries. Better even than the Stanley Cup playoffs. That admission may sting, but its the truth. Nothing captures the American imagination quite like the spectacle of an outdoor game that recalls childhood skating on frozen ponds. The 2009 Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Blackhawks at Wrigley Field had the highest American television ratings of any hockey game in 33 years. The Rangers 3-2 victory over the Flyers on Monday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia beat out ABC, CBS and FOX in the 18-49 category. Imagine how much better those ratings would have been had the NHL not chosen to go head-to-head with a marquee day of college football bowl games. Thats why the NHL must make its signature event a traveling show. Its not enough to play the game in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Those markets already love hockey. The NHL has to take its best act to less avid hockey markets like Dallas, Denver, San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Miami. Sounds crazy, right? How do you maintain ice in warm-weather climates? Theres not a simple answer. Maybe you take advantage of domed facilities like Cowboys Stadium and University of Phoenix Stadium where you keep the roof closed and the rink chilled until game time. Maybe you consult some scientists much smarter than me to jerry-rig the Rose Bowl or AT&T Park for a day. Whatever the solution, find it because this game dazzles audiences and will sell out no matter where it is played. Non-hockey fans love it just as much as hockey fans, and the non-traditional markets deserve this game just as much as the traditional ones. When NBC Sports Executive VP Jon Miller pitched the original idea to the NHL in 2004, the league didn't find the concept workable. Look how that worked out. The NHL is in no position to take a cant-do attitude. Its still a regional sport. It has to take non-traditional approaches to expanding its brand. It has to take risks. Moving the Winter Classic to new markets requires minimal risk and it promises maximum reward.
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