It’s gotten a lot of buzz, generated on both the Chicago Blackhawks and 31 other team side of fandom. With the sagging ratings of the Winter Classic, what needs to be done to make it return to its must-watch prominence?
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman opened up his 32 Thoughts with the Blackhawks and the Winter Classic, teasing that the two may become a pairing again.
This was my 20th outdoor game, and it never fails. Unfortunately, the television numbers weren’t high in the United States, currently standing second in 2023-24 to Connor Bedard’s Opening Night debut. You think the NHL’s unaware of that? The word in Seattle was Bedard’s going to be involved next season, and since mentioning that on Monday’s pod, its become clear this is Chicago’s event to lose.
Ah yes. There’s that name again–Connor Bedard. The 1.65 million viewers who turned into the season opener on ESPN back in October contributed to the highest ratings in ESPN’s regular season showing history. So while that’s being chewed on, there’s the graphic below that must be considered.
Winter Classic viewership trend: pic.twitter.com/anOcEr8QU5
— Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw) January 3, 2024
The three highest games on record involved Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington and Toronto. Though the game at Notre Dame Stadium had intrigue, it still didn’t come close to the ratings from 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2014. Why?
It’s not that complicated.
Blackhawks, Winter Classic Novelty Wore Off With Time
There is something to be said for killing the Golden Goose. The 2008 version of the Winter Classic was brand new, not a heritage classic exhibition in Canada, which by the way, were amazing to watch. The difference is the game counted and it was on New Year’s Day. The inagural version of Sidney Crosby’s Penguins versus the Buffalo Sabres featured the rising Crosby against another great team in the Sabres. Oh, and it was picturesque with snow falling and ended on a shootout winner–by Crosby.
That built into the Red Wings – Blackhawks clash at Wrigley Field, which melted the nostalgia of a baseball cathedral into a bitter Original Six rivalry. It was the up and coming Hawks and the (then) defending champion Red Wings.
But the magic would be tough to recapture as teams faded, and especially the Blackhawks, once a marquee draw, saw their teams fold in the latter half of the decade. They still did modest numbers, but nothing will match the intrigue of Wrigley Field.
But as the Blackhawks sank in the standings, the league desperately tried new ideas. Even with that 2019 Blackhawks team that would miss the playoffs, those would remain the highest ratings in the past four versions of the game.
So it’s where for the state of the outdoor staple, they need to call in the youngest All-Star game participant in league history to pull it out of ratings malaise.
Bedard Could Bring Back the Magic
If a regular season game can generate the ratings with a rebuilding team not expected to make noise, imagine what could happen on New Years Day against another intriguing team? Take your pick. How about one last go around with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins?
Perhaps Edmonton and the poorly marketed Connor McDavid could make great foes. Maybe ratchet up that old time hatred with the Vancouver Canucks, a top-tier team this season, and bring them to the Windy City for a tilt?
Could a Trevor Zegras – Connor Bedard matchup intrigue enough?
How about bringing back that old nemesis from the Motor City–or if they really want to make money, putting the game at the Big House in Ann Arbor? They’ll easily pack the mammoth capacity and likely blow past the ratings of both 2009 and 2014, which featured both teams in the former and the stadium in the latter.
The NHL struggles to market the sport properly, and the Winter Classic was the first big break through for some time. It needs a shake up and though there will be wailing and gnashing of the teeth if Chicago re-enters the fray, it would be with good purpose.
The Hawks need Bedard to build relevancy again. The league needs both to see ratings climb. The Winter Classic needs all of the above to continue being a New Years Day feature.
Bedard has been good business in Chicago. Imagine the boom for the league if they get it right again.