Now that the 2011 Winter Classic has passed, the debate about the host city for the 2012 Winter Classic is already under way. Pittsburgh was an excellent host, and despite the media (mostly Canadian) and fan complaints about the ice conditions, the league's two biggest superstars playing under the lights were a major hit with viewers.
Suggestions for next year's game have included the Rangers playing at Citi Field in New York, or the Capitals hosting the Flyers at FedEx Field in Washington D.C. and even the Stars playing a game in Jerry Jones' monument to 96 minutes of game action per year in Dallas.
Weather and temperature are an obvious concern with some of these suggestions, and television ratings are another, but if the NHL wants to help itself and help the game grow, they'll head to Central Ohio, giving the game to the Columbus Blue Jackets
Below is a table showing the average temperature in each NHL city in December and January.
||Dec Avg. (F)||Jan. Avg. (F)|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||27||21|
|Detroit Red Wings||29||24|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||33||28|
|New York Islanders||33||30|
|St. Louis Blues||35||30|
|New Jersey Devils||36||32|
|New York Rangers||37||32|
|San Jose Sharks||49||49|
|Los Angeles Kings||59||57|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||62||61|
Any team listed below the Rangers won't host a future Winter Classic due to weather concerns. I've listed two Canadian cities in red because neither city has a stadium large enough to host the game. Ottawa's largest stadium, Frank Clair Stadium, holds only 26,559 spectators and Calgary's largest stadium, McMahon Stadium, holds only 35,560 spectators.
In reality, all six Canadian cities should be marked in red because there is a near-zero chance the NHL would ever host a Winter Classic in Canada -- the U.S. television ratings would be abysmally low.
As previous hosts, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh won't soon host another game, though after the ratings from the game in Pittsburgh were published, I'm sure the NHL would love to go back to the Steel City in 2012. Eliminating those possible host cities leaves Minneapolis, Detroit, Denver, Columbus, St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York. Of those, it is my belief that Columbus should host the 2012 Winter Classic.
On the surface, hosting the game in a non-traditional hockey market home to a team unable to generate any national media interest may seem like a mistake. Columbus has only made the playoffs once in their nine-season history, though lately that has as much to do with the division they play in, not the team itself. In light of their regular season results, it's no surprise that the Blue Jackets have struggled at the gate.
But the Jackets have done well on television. Their games on Fox Sports Ohio have drawn ratings that surprise the average fan. In 2008-2009 the Jackets drew a 1.43 rating, good for eighth out of twenty-two reporting markets in the U.S. The Jackets 2009-2010 ratings slipped slightly to 1.39, but they were still eleventh of twenty-two reporting markets, ahead of teams like the Sharks and Rangers. It's well-known that the Jackets have struggled financially, and it's possible that without an annual playoff appearance they may never make money
However, the NHL has a unique opportunity in Columbus in 2012. If the NHL is dedicated to the expansion markets, as Gary Bettman has said time and time again during interviews, then the league should use the Winter Classic to solidify the Columbus market. The league would be hard-pressed to find a better venue than Ohio State's venerable Ohio Stadium, a.k.a. The Horseshoe, a 102,329-seat college football stadium filled with history, lore and beauty.
Columbus would give the league a Western Conference host, yet the city isn't far from the Eastern media, and it's within driving distance of a number of NHL markets who would help Columbus fill the enormous Horseshoe. The Blue Jackets could certainly use the revenue, the media attention and the raised profile within hockey.The NHL needs the city and fans to see hockey on the second-biggest stage the league can offer and hopefully drive more hips through the turnstiles.
The league could pit Columbus against the defending Stanley Cup Champion (unless it's a Canadian team), Detroit or Pittsburgh (both cities are a short drive away from Columbus and would bring plenty of fans), or New York or Philadelphia (if television ratings are the overriding concern).
The Horseshoe cries out for a night game, because as college football fans know, the Horseshoe at night is an amazing atmosphere -- a perfect stage for the Winter Classic. The opportunity is a unique one because the NHL cannot support any of the other expansion markets in this manner. Unless the teams in those markets are able to make a Stanley Cup Final, the league cannot bring such an important game with a sizeable national spotlight and enormous media coverage to those markets.
There are other worthy venues around the country. Busch Stadium in St. Louis would be the perfect place to host a Blues vs. Blackhawks bout. Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia would make for a raucous atmosphere, perfect for a Flyers vs. Rangers tilt. Mile High in Denver would have a warm welcome for the Red Wings.
All of those possible matchups and venues would make for entertaining viewing. But if the the health of the league and a commitment to expansion markets are primary concerns for the NHL, Ohio Stadium and the Columbus Blue Jackets are the perfect combination to host the 2012 Winter Classic.