It’s too bad that the NHL’s “Winter Classic” will not be played in New York anytime soon. Not that the NHL, or NBC don’t want the game there. In fact, once they realized they have a TV hit on their hands, they immediately had their sights set on the Big Apple, and the NY Rangers. There are just two small problems: (1) they wanted the game played at the original Yankee Stadium; and (2) too many teams want to be the Rangers’ opponent.
The original Yankee Stadium is no longer with us. The Bronx Bombers have a brand new, state-of-the-art coliseum built next to where the old stadium was located. It is actually more suited for non-baseball events. In fact, the stadium struck a deal with ESPN and the NCAA to host the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. But don’t despair. Since the bowl is aligned with the Big East and Big XII, two conferences being picked apart by the other super conferences, and thus consigned for inevitable oblivion. So that leaves Yankee Stadium out of the NHL’s plans for the immediate future. There is another baseball stadium in the city.
Citi Field in Flushing Meadow was also built with other venues in mind other than baseball. It lacks the prestige and tradition of say… Shea Stadium, but it is more than an acceptable alternative host site for the Classic, should it be held in New York. And in fact, the NHL, and NBC have no problems having the Rangers play in Citi Field. The question involves who gets to be the other team. Based on geography, the logical answer would be the New York Islanders. Once they were a bitter arch-rival to the Blueshirts, but those days have been long gone. Not only do they have zero national recognition, they are a distant 9th in popularity and recognition in a nine-team NYC metropolitan market. (I’m only counting the Big 4 North American leagues. Otherwise, they could fall to 11th behind MSL’s Red Bulls, and the WNBA’s Liberty.) The New Jersey Devils also raised a fuss, and believe they are the most logical opponent. At least they have been a consistent winner since 1994, and since that time, are only second to the Yankees in terms of championships won in this area. However, due to the way the GM have built that franchise, which is to say, with highly talented, but no marque players (save Goalie Martin Brodeur, but I’m sure not even they knew he would be that good), the Devils also have zero national recognition. Now since neither the Islanders nor Devils would garner any rating, and NBC is in the business of getting ratings, the network insisted on another team … one that is also a rival to the Broadway Blues, but with that would draw interest in other major cities. A team such as the Boston Bruins, or Philadelphia Flyers. The end result is what we saw back in January 2012 – the Rangers did end up playing in the NHL’s Winter Classic, but as the visiting team at Philadelphia’s Citizen Bank Ballpark.
Sadly, the Islanders’ biggest problem is not the lack of recognition, or lacks of wins since 1984. It is their home building, the Nassau Coliseum. Here is the Cliff’s Notes version of why it is consistently ranked dead last by fans, players, and the media alike: it is obsolete; it is falling apart; it is hard to get to with no access to public transportation; it is stuck in a horrible lease deal; it is in the middle of nowhere; and it has zero charm or characteristics to differentiate itself from any other arena (even much-maligned venues like the old Shea Stadium had a sense of uniqueness to it).
Citi Field has its problems too. However, the height and distance of the outfield walls is minor compared to the lack of revenue generated by the talent-strapped Mets for the cash-strapped Wilpons. The venue needs more than just 81 baseball games on its schedule. And while The Isles and Devs can have a pre-season game to christen the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, why not schedule regular seasons games at Citi? It’s not like the Mets will be using the place in the month of October in quite a while. Regardless of national television, the Islanders should play as many gamers as possible at Citi Field. They can easily get more than 20,000 in attendance in games against local rivals Rangers, Devils, and Flyers. And if they want to promote a “take the train, and then another train to the game” campaign, perhaps add the Capitals and Bruins to the mix. They can use TV timeouts when planes take off from LaGuardia airport.
(And before you ask, no the Barclays Center was not built to host a NHL franchise. The seating capacity is way below league standards, and would be even less than Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, which is, as of 2012, the smallest NHL arena in terms of capacity seating. So it is not a viable alternative for the Islanders once the lease expires at the Nassau Coliseum.)