The overnight ratings are in for Saturday's 2011 Winter Classic, and by all accounts, it was a success. According to TVByTheNumbers, the Winter Classic won the night for NBC in the coveted 18 to 49 demographic. Steve Lepore of Puck The Media says it was the best turnout yet for a Winter Classic, and that it could be the best TV numbers for an NHL game since 1996.
This all comes with the game being pushed from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. thanks to the weather. The NHL barely promoted the time change, and if you were watching the game live on Saturday night, your TV told you that some mix of Paid Programming and Law & Order: Los Angeles re-runs were on.
The Winter Classic under the lights: a big time win for the NHL. The question is, why didn't we think of this before?
When we think of sports on New Year's Day, what's the first thing that comes to mind? The Rose Bowl, the granddaddy. It's outside in sunny California, you watch it in the middle of the day while you're still nursing that hangover from the night before. Sports on January 1 are just supposed to be in the afternoon. That's what we subconsciously think, at least.
So five years ago, when the NHL began planning for the first Winter Classic, it made sense. This is our bowl game, so to speak, so we'll put it on in the middle of the afternoon on New Year's Day and it'll become a tradition.
Year in and year out, however, the one major concern the NHL has is that the Winter Classic will never beat the bowl games. You can't beat the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, right? Hell, you can't even beat the Fiesta Bowl.
The logical move would be to play the Winter Classic after the Rose Bowl, then, when the rest of the bowl schedule is also slim and there are no other sports on network television. We'd be remiss without mentioning that playing outdoor hockey under the lights at night gives the game a much bigger feel, too. And it looks awesome.
Gary Bettman told The Sporting News in Pittsburgh on Saturday that they hadn't thought about a night-time Winter Classic until this weekend.
"That's not something we considered until yesterday," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said of the Classic's 8 p.m. ET. "That's something we'll have to discuss with our network broadcast partners, obviously. And I think it's also an issue of what makes sense at the appropriate time."
Avoid most of the competition, claim a time all to your own, and shine under the lights. Why didn't we think about this before?