DOES U.S. FEEL LEFT OUT AFTER CANADA'S
HERITAGE CLASSIC SUCCESS
December 8, 2003
Story by: Michael Hobson
The biggest problem the NHL has continually
faced is the slow growth of interest in
the game in the U.S. The game is only popular
in small pockets of the country. The league
cannot find a way to attract large U.S.
television audiences to its games, and therefore
cannot attract large U.S. television dollars
to the league-one of many reasons why next
season a labour dispute will likely see
a long stoppage of play. The league has
tried everything to attract American interest,
from major expansion to a glowing puck on
television but the game has yet to make
a dent in many major markets. Television
ratings show that interest in hockey in
the U.S. ranks somewhere between amateur
swimming and professional bowling. So why
is it that when Canada decides to hold a
classic event meant to honour the history
and commitment by the country to the game
that the U.S. cries foul for not being involved?
The question remains--when has the U.S.
ever been involved?
On a frightfully cold winter day in November
the NHL held what it called its Heritage
Classic. The game, between the Montreal
Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers was played
at Commonwealth Stadium, an outdoor football
facility, in front of more than 60,000 eager,
enthusiastic, frigid fans, with the results
counting in the standings. The game was
preceded by a Legends contest between the
two teams (the dynasties from the seventies--Montreal,
and the eighties--Edmonton) and was highlighted
by the reappearance of the greatest of them
all, Wayne Gretzky, donning an Oiler jersey
one last time. The day was highly anticipated
by all Canadian hockey fans and millions
watched both games. It was a day and event
that was special to all Canadians.
In the aftermath many U.S. media outlets
complained that the game was largely ignored
in their country, and that the NHL erred
by not arranging a U.S. feed. The problem
was that the U.S. networks didn't want to
commit the time and money needed to air
the contest. The game was being played on
November 22, a date that was unacceptable
to many television networks due to college
football priorities and the upcoming Thanksgiving
Day celebrations. They tried to have the
date changed, but the weather in Edmonton
was the driving force behind the date choice.
It had to be held on a day that was cold
enough so the ice could stay frozen, but
not too cold so that the there wouldn't
be a major outbreak of frostbite among players,
coaches, officials, and fans.
The outdoor game was not an original idea.
Indoor sports have been played in larger
arena before-basketball games are often
played in domes and a couple of years back
Michigan and Michigan State played an outdoor
hockey game in front of more than 70,000
fans. So why are many U.S. media types complaining
that they weren't involved in this one?
Why are they questioning the choice of teams,
as in shouldn't the visiting team have been
American based? "This is a celebration,
but the casual American fan is not invited,"
wrote Kara Yorio of The Sporting News. Do
Americans feel the need to be involved in
everything, and if they are not do they
feel slighted? I somehow doubt whether that
"casual American fan" even knew
the game took place-let alone cared.
"Next time around, could a U.S team
come out and play?" whined Ms. Yorio.
The thing is that nobody is stopping an
American based NHL team from staging a similar
event. If the Red Wings and the Rangers
want to play at Ford Field in January I
doubt whether any Canadian will gripe about
not being involved.
Reprinted courtesy of www.thefanview.com