The National Hockey League held its much-hyped Winter Classic 2008 hockey game January 1st, 2008 in Buffalo, NY. On hand were over 71000 fans to witness Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins go to a shootout to defeat the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 2-1. The game was broadcast on NBC and was a success on the small screen as well. Was the game actually good for hockey though?
The NHL has wanted to expand its presence in the United States for a very long time now and compete with the other big sports in the country. Well, if you want to draw attention to yourself, you need a Las Vegas style extravaganza. In this aspect the league got just what it wanted.
Never mind that the sport the league used to promote as the fastest game on Earth was painfully slow to watch with the bad ice and weather conditions – the Penguins managed an official two shots on goal in the second period, which seemed to get lost in the snow since they weren’t readily viewed. You could feel the team executives holding their collective breath praying that none of the superstar players would get injured in these horrible conditions. Still the product was a game that didn’t need a special electronic puck that showed up blue or red on the television screen so those unacquainted with the hockey could follow it.
By going to a shootout, at least that meant the lacklustre quality didn’t cost the teams much as each team is guaranteed a point in the standings.
If numbers and money are what’s important, this was a success. Sell the steak, not the sizzle. I guess that somewhat archaic quotation didn’t apply to the marketing in this instance. This game was pure sizzle.
It is very sad that numbers rather than the quality of the product now measure the success of the sport of hockey. Especially when the players’ careers are on the line to partake in such a spectacle.
The NHL got exactly what it was hoping for: a slow game that anybody could have followed; a shootout; no fights; and the league’s best player as the hero. It is almost as if the game was phoned in for pick-up ahead of time.