Outdoor game creates Classic conundrum

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

It's been nearly a week, and people are still gushing about the NHL's most recent foray into the great outdoors.

Tuesday's Winter Classic in Buffalo could be described in many ways. It was a commercial success, with a record crowd of more than 70,000 enthusiastic hockey fans in attendance. It was an unparalleled spectacle, with snowy weather and made-for-motion-picture storylines (including the league's poster boy, Sidney Crosby, winning the game for his Penguins -- in a shootout, no less).

But many seem to be forgetting that this record-setting event should also be remembered as something else.

The game, despite all the jubilation surrounding it, was a novelty. And novelties tend to lose some of their appeal when they become commonplace.

Unfortunately, two of America's most notable journalists seem to think otherwise, and their opinions regarding the Winter Classic likely caught the league off-guard, but not for the reasons you'd expect.

Pardon The Interruption's Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon serve as sounding boards to the sports-hungry masses when they discuss the newsworthy topics of the day on ESPN (and TSN here).

While neither has been known to reference the NHL in glowing terms, Wednesday's broadcast proved to be an enormous exception. Both claimed to have watched a good portion of the Winter Classic, and Wilbon proclaimed the game to be "more entertaining than any (BCS football) bowl game."

The NHL a better spectacle than a college football championship -- classic Americana in one of its purest forms? Somewhere Gary Bettman must have thought he was dreaming.

If only it had ended there.

Wilbon went on to state that the NHL should play an outdoor game every Sunday -- "either somewhere in Canada or the northeast (U.S.) corridor." Kornheiser went even further, suggesting that all teams play "10 outdoor home games."

Never mind the logistical complexities that come with staging even one outdoor game, such as the vagaries of the weather and the fact that not every NHL city is capable of producing such a passionate crowd.

But Wilbon and Kornheiser liked it, right? They're American sports broadcast personalities with a large TV audience and they willingly admitted on-air that the NHL's Winter Classic was entertaining. It's more than the league dared hope for.

Well, the PTI duo still had a couple of quibbles.

Kornheiser claimed his only objection was that "(NBC) covered it like a regular (hockey) game" and Wilbon was quick to agree, adding, "I wanted more shots of the crowd and constant weather updates."

In other words, they wanted more of the spectacle and less of the actual sport. For the record, that whooshing sound you hear is the entire point behind the Winter Classic being missed.

The NHL wanted to sell U.S. viewers on its game, and figured that a highly publicized outdoor event in Buffalo would serve as the perfect bait.

What the league didn't anticipate was the possibility of some Americans being swayed by a novelty concept that doesn't normally exist. Now they say they want more of it, and on a regular basis, no less. They didn't say they wanted more hockey, period -- and therein lies the problem for the NHL, despite all the goodwill created by the Winter Classic.

SKATING BILLBOARDS

Advertising on uniforms hit a new low during the recent Spengler Cup, where teams (including Canada) were wallpapered with ads from head to toe. Surprisingly, some premium real estate was overlooked -- close-ups showed that the players' mouthguards were left blank. Apparently the line had to be drawn somewhere.

LEAGUE IN QUITE A SCRAPE

The NHL's newest buzz phrase was christened this week (courtesy of the Winter Classic): The "dry scrape." It refers to the removal of snow from the ice (either manually or via Zamboni) without flooding afterward. I think it sounds like a torturous procedure performed by a sadistic dentist.


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