There’s only six days left until the Winter Classic pits the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers in an outdoor battle at our own Citizens Bank Park. With the time quickly ticking away towards the Quaker City’s shot at national recognition, we thought it would be smart to examine the game itself and everything surrounding it.
Today, in the first of three parts, we’ll talk about what is wrong with the NHL’s New Year’s Day party continuing in the vein of our “Five Things” series.
5. Baseball Stadiums — Why, why WHY after getting 80,000 people crammed into Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park four years ago, did the NHL’s braintrust decide to hit up some decrepit baseball fields with half the capacity??? To put it plainly, the sight lines in “historic” Wrigley Field (2009) and Fenway Park (2010) largely sucked. The upper decks were held up with poles cemented to the lower decks so the same obstructed-view spots for the Cubs and Red Sox remained for hockey.
As a ticket holder, you’re stoked to buy seats behind home plate you never could justify under normal circumstances but can only see two-thirds of the actual play because you’re just about at rink level. You sit in the upper levels in the outfield and feel just as far away from center ice as you do from home plate.
It was a good move to go back to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh back in January, but here we go again with the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park. I get it, that the less seats, the bigger the demand, the larger the jealousy for those who attend, and the more spread out the party actually becomes around the event…but WHY wouldn’t you keep doing it for 80G AND the extra thousands of people who want to be a part of the day?
Oh yeah, right…because the city you want to play the game already has their football stadium in use…
4. East Coast bias — The league wanted so badly to put their two largest Eastern markets on display that they were willing to disrupt a four-year “tradition” of an outdoor game on New Year’s Day and play it on the rather ordinary (except in the case of the author) date of January 2. That’s because Yankee Stadium has a college bowl game committed three days prior and Lincoln Financial Field has that pesky problem of hosting the final game of the Philadelphia Eagles’ failed 2011 experiment.
We all know the NHL needs to keep its ratings at a peak, but because of the NFL’s final regular-season contest on this coming Sunday, and the fact that there’s no bowl games with which to compete because of the BCS schedule spread, you have to take the game to more frozen pastures and play up other rivalries where conflict won’t arise. In five years, the Penguins have been featured twice, the Flyers twice and the only team outside the Eastern Time Zone to participate was the Chicago Blackhawks.
How about pitting Detroit and Colorado at Mile High? The names alone evoke old-time hockey. Even though it’s just as likely to be 60 and sunny than it is to be below freezing in Denver on January 1, we all know the league can work wonders with the ice-making machinery so it won’t be like that preseason Rangers-Kings game at Caesars Palace in Vegas 20 years ago. Hell, at Ford Field they should have no problem after hosting the 2010 Frozen Four.
3. Lack of neutral sites — Think about this. You want a once-a-year occurrence to have special meaning and significance in fans’ minds. Why are you holding the games in one city so that only one team’s fans get the experience of going on the road, blowing their hard-earned (or holiday given) money, and weaving their way through new surroundings in order to get the full-on road-trip scenario?
Why not hold a game on the Froooozen Tunnndra of Lammmbeauu Fielddddd??? Think about that…guaranteed 60 grand in attendance, historic but not crumbling venue, sub-zero temperatures in northern Wisconsin. Get the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks involved and all their hockey freak supporters from traditional hockey markets.
If not, how about that long-rumored Penguins-Flyers mashup which was supposed to take place at Beaver Stadium in State College? THAT’S the Holy Grail. A stadium with 100,000-plus seats and a venue that’s built for tailgating over several square miles that’s equidistant from both cities that are ratings bonanzas? Sign me up. Maybe there’s an issue of clearance with the team/university but if they can host outdoor college hockey at Michigan State, how hard can it be to do so for the pros?
2. It’s too geared towards Television — No sense in hiding here, because whoever has tickets to the Winter Classic starts drinking pretty much as soon as they can wipe the sleep from their eyes and pull on a pair of corduroys. That’s roughly 9:18 AM for most of us. But when they tell us the game starts at 1 PM, and then we see the clock ticking past 1:15, then 1:30 and then see the litttle hand creep further towards the “2″ and there’s no face-off yet because the burnout local band from the 60′s has to take the “stage” for a loving reunion with their one-hit wonder, you’re playing Russian roulette with four bullets. That’s too many angry drunks kept waiting for what they actually came to see.
And just when you think you’re getting a respite from the action, and cracking on the other team’s fans sitting on either side of you, and all you want to do is take your eyes off the rink ands start drinking in the atmosphere, some dumbass down on the field starts blathering about something and maybe you are forced to sit through that dumbass Cubs victory song, or Sweet Caroline, or worse, Patti LaBelle.
No matter what, there are things going on before, during and after the game itself that have no bearing on the fan experience and can frankly be annoying and distracting to the paying customers. It’s an all-out assault to keep the smart people i.e. the ones who didn’t shovel out a paycheck for the experience, glued to the television. The worst part is, there often are not any cues from the public address that anything is going to occur before it does. It just happens, and there’s a visible aura of WTF from the people who are still sober enough to be rattled because they can still react to what exists beyond the inside of their own eyeballs.
I don’t know what the answer is here. Maybe hand out leaflets with a schedule printed on them so people know exactly what to expect, maybe this year have Dan Baker use his dulcet tones to announce the pre-during-and-post-game extras. Maybe use that 1000″ HDTV scoreboard to warn us what’s coming so we can grab those 6 craft beers we haven’t tried because we don’t want to see an 87-year-old Chubby Checker do The Twist at intermission.
Or maybe we should just ditch it and stay in, so we can make everyone jealous talking about that massive tracking shot of what it looks like to see CBP while accidentally falling out of the fuselage of a 747 at 9.8 meters per second squared without a parachute.
1.The format is boring — It’s five years on and you can predict exactly what’s going to happen throughout the entire broadcast.
Fade in, and you have a silhouetted shot of the Rocky statue, giving way to a dissolve cut of various Broad Street Bullies thuggery which morphs into the two Stanley Cup parades in that same stock aerial shot above City Hall. Mike Emrick with the voice-over.
Mike Milbury with half-remembered war stories of what it was like to play in Philly during the heyday that was 35 years ago. Pierre McGuire jizzing over Claude Giroux and the inevitable comparisons by the talking heads between the old school and new jack players on both teams. Shots of steaming steaks on the grill at Pat’s/Geno’s. Boathouse row when it’s lit up near dark. Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin Bridge, stock photo of the Spectrum in its glory followed by the empty husk of Corporate Tax Shelter LIVE! A ceremonial face-off with Bobby Clarke and Rod Gilbert. Maybe some game action, finally.
Bland, inoffensive and older talent with tenuous connections to the host city at every opportunity.
LaBelle channeling Aretha Franklin in the pre-game with a 5-minute version of the National Anthem. Lauren Hart/Kate Smith/Gene Hart at intermission. Hall and Oates at the other intermission. Jim Croce’s widow in the post-game. More stories from an emotional mic-hog Jeremy Roenick about playing in Philadelphia. Random cutaways to Ron Duguay’s still-impressive hair in a luxury suite.
Oh, and did you know about the tracking shot which shows what it’s like to fall out of the fuselage of a 747 right above the field?
Repeat ad nauseam for future host cities.
If the NHL’s not careful — and there’s no reason to think that it will be — the Winter Classic will become a bland, unwatched little step-brother to the Super Bowl. It’s not so far away now, imagine what will happen in the next 2 years if thousands of someones don’t speak up and force the league to initiate some changes?
They did all of it for us, the fans. So if you got beef, then bring the ruckus. Time’s yours.