The world has changed dramatically in the last nine and a half months since the Minnesota Wild were announced as hosts of the 2021 Bridgestone Winter Classic. Not long after the Wild were awarded the marquee NHL regular season event, a global pandemic has put a halt to sports as we knew it. If you’re like me, I double-take when I see fans in the stands at any sporting event seen on television. Empty, cavernous arenas and stadiums have become the norm across North America in just about every league.
That’s not what the NHL or the Minnesota Wild wants to see for the Winter Classic.
During Gary Bettman’s annual update on the NHL prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, he mentioned that the start of next season could “slip into January,” which would mean no Winter Classic.
Frankly, the Wild should be pushing hard to reschedule the event. The Winter Classic is the most attended hockey game, meaning gigantic money in the league coffers. It’s also the biggest showcase for the host team, and a chance to display that city’s hockey culture.
No Fans, No Money
The Minnesota Department of Health allows no more than 250 people to gather in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Things could change before Jan. 1, but it’s unlikely the MDH will allow 39,000 people to congregate at Target Field.
Furthermore, that kind of uncertainty doesn’t allow the Wild and the NHL to promote and sell the event with a full year of lead up time. There’s site preparation, teams and support staff logistics, tickets to sell and ancillary event planning that needs to take place.
An NHL-sized rink needs to be built in the middle of Target Field, which is a week-long process, and the Twins are supposed to winterize a stadium built for use in the spring, summer and fall.
Also, an empty building puts the NHL in the red. The Winter Classic is big money. The 2014 Winter Classic held at Michigan Stadium drew over 100,000 fans to the Big House to see Detroit vs. Toronto — that meant nearly $30 million dollars for the NHL.
Target Field doesn’t have space for that many fans. That number is likely to be closer to what last year’s game brought in at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies park drew 46,000 fans each day for the main and ancillary events, which included an alumni game, and made $15 million for the league. Some simple math has a Minnesota Winter Classic bringing in roughly $13 million.
By not rescheduling the Winter Classic, the NHL and the Wild could be robbing the local economy as well. According to the St. Louis Commerce Chamber’s Research Director, the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium was estimated to bring in close to $18.5 million to St. Louis. That number pales in comparison to the $450 million of economic impact the Super Bowl had for Minneapolis and St. Paul, but after the pandemic, an estimated $13 million in economic impact would be welcome.
Looking at the potential money lost, the decision to reschedule the Minnesota Winter Classic is an easy one.
Lackluster Roster to Showcase
When the Wild announced the Winter Classic during Hockey Day Minnesota last year, they had a roster that was… average. Mikko Koivu was sliding down the roster, Eric Staal struggled mightily and Kirill Kaprizov was little more than a rumor. But the roster was good enough: The Wild beat the Dallas Stars 7-0 that day.
Outside of Kevin Fiala and Kaprizov and a solid top-four defense, Minnesota’s roster leaves a lot to be desired next season. Unless there are more offseason moves following the Stanley Cup Final, the Wild will have a second class line-up for the Winter Classic — a game that must draw in casual viewers. Mediocre isn’t going to cut it.
The Wild are a long ways away from the hope that Minnesota had after the 2012 lockout. Ideally, it’s better for them to push the Winter Classic to a year that allows them to showcase better talent.
Wild fans have waited a long time for Minnesota, the self-proclaimed State of Hockey, to host the NHL’s premier outdoor spectacle. However, it’s best to wait a little bit more. It gives time for the Wild to get better.