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The NHL is hoping old acquaintances will provide an unforgettable New Year’s Day in its second annual Winter Classic. The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks – two of the original six hockey teams – will drop the puck outdoors at historic Wrigley Field- home to baseball’s Chicago Cubs.
Last year’s inaugural outdoor game provided a memorable tableaux, with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby carving through the Buffalo snow to score the winning goal in an overtime shootout in front of the NHL’s largest regular season television audience since Wayne Gretzky’s retirement in 1999.
If the NHL hopes to top last year’s Winter Classic, it certainly has the conditions in its favor. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last year in a series that was the leagues highest-rated in five years. This season, the Red Wings average a 3.5 local household rating in Detroit (aka “Hockeytown, USA”) - third among all NHL clubs.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are more than doubling their average audience in Chicago over last season with an average 1.2 household rating and 43,000 household viewers. They're also leading the league in attendance, thanks in part to their nine-game winning streak riding into Wrigley. And with the forecast calling for a 30% chance of snow in the Windy City Thursday, the scene may well be as visually pleasing as last year’s Classic.
The programming window for the NHL’s Winter Classic is helped in part by the Bowl Championship Series’s decision within the last decade to move three bowl games off New Year’s Day. The National Championship Game, as it has since 2007, airs a full week after the first of the year, with this year’s contest between the Florida Gators and the Oklahoma Sooners kicking off January 8 on FOX.
Nevertheless, college football continues to dominate New Year’s Day television with a slate of bowl games across four networks. Last year’s Rose Bowl on ABC was seen by over 19 million viewers, tops for any program on New Year’s Day. The top 6 most-viewed sports programs of New Year’s Day were all bowl games, followed by the Winter Classic.
|1||ROSE BOWL||ILLINOIS vs. USC||ABC||19,003,000|
|2||CAPITAL ONE BOWL||MICHIGAN vs. FLORIDA||ABC||14,780,000|
|3||ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL||HAWAII vs. GEORGIA||FOX||11,702,000|
|4||AT&T COTTON BOWL||MISSOURI vs. ARKANSAS||FOX||5,664,000|
|5||OUTBACK BOWL||WISCONSIN vs. TENNESSEE||ESPN||4,547,000|
|6||GATOR BOWL||VIRGINIA vs. TEXAS TECH||CBS||4,038,000|
|7||WINTER CLASSIC (NHL)||PITTSBURGH vs. BUFFALO||NBC||3,585,000|
|Source: The Nielsen Company (January 1, 2008)|