A couple of years ago, it looked like old Yankee Stadium was on track to host an outdoor Rangers hockey game. But that never happened, and with the Yankees’ new ballpark now committed to hosting a bowl game just before New Year’s Day, if the Winter Classic is to come to New York, it’ll have to be held elsewhere. Gary Bettman wouldn’t say whether the New Meadowlands Stadium or Citi Field were under consideration for the 2012 game — the 2011 Winter Classic will pit the Penguins and Capitals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh — but they’d be the two most obvious choices in the area. Which, though, makes for the better Winter Classic venue?
Gary Bettman has previously said that football stadiums often offer better sight lines for outdoor hockey games, particularly for fans in the first twenty or so rows. And the Meadowlands offers a larger capacity than Citi Field; in fact, with 82,500 seats, it would be the largest venue to host the Winter Classic to date. On the other hand, the Times reports that in order for the league to stage the game in an NFL venue, a football team — and in this case, two football teams — have to vacate for at least two Sundays. (Reportedly, that could be accommodated, though.) And then there’s the question of the team’s opponent: Could the NHL stage a game in New Jersey and not include the Devils? Obviously, such an outdoor game at the Meadowlands would be great for Devils fans — and for Rangers fans who enjoy a good rivalry — but we imagine the league (or the network broadcasting the game) wouldn’t want to pit two teams from the same television market against each other. (Reportedly, they weren’t keen on either the Devils or Islanders taking part in the proposed Yankee Stadium game.)
Scheduling a game at Citi Field, meanwhile, would be less of a headache: Even if Terry Collins somehow leads the Mets to a seven-game World Series, it’ll be available to the NHL come November. And a game in Queens would allow the NHL to choose an opponent without that awkward conversation with Lou Lamoriello about why his team doesn’t get to play in the game across the parking lot from its former home.
But even though the New Meadowlands Stadium was built with special events like this in mind — it’s hosting a freaking Super Bowl, after all — here’s why Citi Field is the better choice: A game at the Meadowlands would surely draw national attention, just like any Winter Classic, particularly one in this area, would. (A side note: Assuming HBO follows next year’s participants as it’s doing this year, Sean Avery would be that network’s best character since Tony Soprano was/was not shot.) But a game at Citi Field would allow the Rangers (and the Mets, and the NHL) to follow last year’s Fenway Park model.
They could leave the rink up after January 1 and let it host local high school or college games. Or let fans in for open skates. (Skating on a rink inside the stadium, needless to say, is infinitely cooler than skating on one in a nearby parking lot.) Or do all sorts of things that would — in some cases directly, and in others, subtly — promote the sport in the city. By the time they build the rink at the Meadowlands, they might have to tear it right back down, to accommodate a Jets or Giants home playoff game. (Humor us.) A rink at Citi Field, though, turns the Winter Classic from an event that lasts a couple of days — who wants to watch an alumni game at 9:30 in the morning, anyway? — into something that could last a week or longer.