Turns out that the Boston Bruins weren’t the only ones who took a beating in Friday’s Winter Classic.
NBC, which broadcast the game in the United States, reported that only 2.775 million viewers took in Montreal’s 5–1 dismantling of the B’s at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. That was the smallest audience yet for any of the eight Winter Classics, down approximately 20% from the 2015 game between Washington and Chicago and a whopping 40% from the 2014 contest between Toronto and Detroit.
So, what happened? Everything was in place for this game to be a ratings smash: two Original Six teams with broad fan bases; one of the best rivalries in the four major sports; and a game that would have an immediate impact on divisional standings. Add in a strong presentation from the league (aside from some disastrous musical choices: Simple Plan, Nate Ruess, American Authors, Jordan Smith) and it looked like the deck was stacked ... at least in terms of what the NHL could control.
The problems, though, lay in areas the league couldn’t stage. The game was a lopsided snoozer almost from the opening face-off. Despite the enthusiasm of the broadcast crew, and a variety of thrilling camera angles, there was no way to disguise the fact that the game was a dog. Even as the score remained close at 3–1 nearly midway through the contest, the inability of the B’s to mount any kind of counter to Montreal’s relentless attack sucked the drama right out of the action and drove casual viewers off to search for a repeat of Heidi.
Even the weather failed to cooperate, though the snow globe effect that made the 2008 and 2014 games so enchanting to the casual viewer probably wouldn’t have been enough to salvage this game.
What does it mean? Well, the ratings result won’t affect the average fan. The Winter Classic remains a bonanza for the league and the teams involved and it will continue to be a broadcast staple for years to come. But it will be interesting to see if the numbers impact future productions. Toronto is favored to host the 2017 game in conjunction with the Maple Leafs’ 100th anniversary, but NBC could balk at the presence of another Canadian team. It could also lead the league to explore options for a more dramatic location outside of the customary football/baseball stadium. And, if we’re lucky, it might even lead the NHL to spend some money on an A-list musical act rather than filling time (or angering the fans in attendance) with bargain basement entertainment.
At least, we can hope...