PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – If you are NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, you are feeling pretty good about yourself these days. The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers put on a Winter Classic that went so well that the league he runs has now become something pretty darn special, something he couldn’t say roughly 10 years ago when the words lockout and bad TV ratings were a part of the norm when mentioning the NHL. Those days are over.
The NHL is now synonymous not only with a quality event in the Winter Classic, but TV ratings have gone up every year since the lockout of 2004-05 as well as the quality of the game. Now the other three major sports are taking notice and are thinking of finding ways to put on something special like the Winter Classic. College basketball tried a game on board an aircraft carrier and called it, wait for it, the Carrier Classic. Even the Campaigner in Chief, oh sorry, I mean Commander in Chief showed up for the event. If you missed it, don’t feel bad, everyone except fans of North Carolina and Michigan State didn’t see it either. What’s next, a basketball game in a bowling alley to be played at… you guessed it, Bowling Green University?
That said, I can see the day when the NBA decides to open their season at the Rose Bowl, or MLB plays its first game ever in a football stadium? Oh wait, they tried that already. How about the NFL plays in a hockey arena? Oh yeah, tried that with the indoor football league. Still, Bettman can feel pretty good about how things went with this year’s Winter Classic.
“We had a terrific day,” he said. “It’s not every day that an event can actually equal or exceed the hype and the buzz that goes with it, but I think we had — without regard to who you root for — a really terrific day. The fans here in Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia were great. Obviously, there were a number of fans who traveled from a great distance to come here, as well, and that was great to see. And this event continues to grow and get stronger, as evidenced by the ancillary events, such as the Alumni Game two days ago. So we thank everybody who was involved, and we felt we had a really good day.”
What is great about the event isn’t just about the game itself anymore. As mentioned there was the highly successful alumni game that occurred two nights before, Penn State will play a college hockey game at the Winter Classic on January 4th and the AHL will join in on the fun Friday night with the Hershey Bears and Adirondack Phantoms renew their rivalry at the Classic as well.
Overall the event has become a celebration of hockey, not just a game. It’s also become a celebration of the franchises who host the event. So many lessons learned from this weekend’s events that people are taking note, and notice from all across the sports world. One gets the feeling that the best is yet to come.