Winter Classic History
The new year typically brings with it the hope for new beginnings, countless choruses of Auld Lang Syne and, since 2008, the NHL Winter Classic Game. Played in a surrounding stadium venue in close proximity to the hosting team’s home ice, the New Year’s Day game has become one of the most prominent North American sporting events and has won the distinction of “Sports Event of the Year” by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily twice in its seven-year existence. Its conditioning outdoors has made for an atypical experience for attending fans, who welcome the cold weather climate as a change of pace from the usual indoor hockey played throughout the season.
The Winter Classic held its first annual game on January 1, 2008, with a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The game was attended by more than 71,000 people, garnering a significant amount of interest in the typical tundra of Buffalo in the winter months. 2014’s game between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings in Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan had the highest attendance in the game’s history, with 105,491 people in the stands to see the Maple Leafs take down the Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout match. It also garnered 8.2 million television viewers, the highest ratings among all past games.
The game also incorporates the wearing of “throwback” sweaters for participating teams, honoring teams of the past with retro jerseys when they hit the ice in January. It is typically the most watched regular season game of the season in the U.S. and consistently sees similar ratings to that of the Stanley Cup Final series. The Winter Classic has averaged 4.1 million television viewers each year since its first game in 2008 and will likely continue to see that number rise as its popularity soars with each passing season.