In spite of the fact that this year’s Winter Classic was up against prime time bowl games and other hockey games along with other prime time programming and all the activities people do outside of the home on Saturday nights, it was the most successful Winter Classic. The 2011 Winter Classic actually had the best ratings of any NHL game since 1975 with 4.5 million viewers. Four of the top five rated NHL games of all time are the Winter Classics and this year’s Winter Classic had an 81% increase in Pittsburgh viewers over the 2008 Winter Classic (the first ever, where the Penguins played the Sabres in Buffalo).
In the Christmas Eve Winter Classic Preview, Versus pointed out that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin had the same number of points. Of course, Crosby got his 571 points in only 410 games (1.39 points per game). Ovechkin has played 435 games (1.31 points per game). Neither of the super stars the NHL and NBC clearly wanted to highlight in this New Year’s Day match-up scored in the Winter Classic this year. Evgeni Malkin did score, but he wasn’t in most of the advertising I saw for the Winter Classic. How about you? The NHL and NBC concentrated on two players and neither of them had much of an impact on Saturday night’s game. Alex did almost score, but it was called off due to his interference with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Crosby’s first Winter Classic appearance couldn’t have been scripted much better. This year’s Winter Classic is memorable for other reasons. It’s the first Winter Classic played in prime time and the first NHL game where the players (and most of the 68,111 fans in attendance) were in the rain for much of the game. Thankfully, the Classic was still able to be completed Saturday night, but I’m sure the conditions affected the game a lot. The streak trailing the puck and skates made that clear. Most fans I talked to on my way out were still in great sprits, in spite of the weather conditions and (for Pittsburgh fans) the outcome of the game. Capitals fans and Penguins fans were even chanting “Flyers suck” on and off on their very long way out of the building in the crowds – something on which they could agree even when the Capitals had just beaten the Penguins.
The visiting team has now won ¾ of the Winter Classic games, so the 2011 Winter Classic outcome is probably not very surprising. The good news for Penguins fans is that it’s just ONE regular season game. Though the buildup is high and the event is amazing, in the end the Winter Classic is just one out of 82 games played in the regular season. The Penguins beat the Capitals in Washington to start out their 2010-11 series and the Caps beat the Pens at home in the Winter Classic. The Pens are still two points ahead of the Caps in the standings, having played the same number of games (40). Sidney Crosby is still 23 points and 18 goals ahead of Alex Ovechkin this season. I’d say the Penguins are winning the war in spite of losing the Winter Classic battle and most of their fans seemed to realize this fact.
Overall, most fans seemed excited about the prime time Winter Classic game. Many fans I talked to about the change were more excited about the 8pm game than they’d been about the game when it was supposed to start at 1pm. Clearly, the 8pm start on New Year’s Day gave fans of both teams a lot more time to recover from New Year’s Eve and tailgate. Though I know hockey is popular and fans love to tailgate, I was amazed at the number of fans who were tailgating outside of Heinz Field as I walked by. Fans obviously took advantage of the later start and partied in preparation for the game.
The game itself might not have been a great example of NHL talents, but the 2011 Winter Classic will be remembered as the first Winter Classic with rain and to take place in prime time. The prime time start was so successful this year, perhaps the NHL should consider moving the Winter Classic to prime time going forward.