Flyers and Pens set for Outdoor Game in 2017, but does anyone care?

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Is the Winter Classic still relevant?

By Mike Santa Barbara (@Mike_SB)

The hockey world was abuzz when ESPN’s Scott Burnside reported Friday that the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will likely play in one of the NHL’s 2017 outdoor games. Or maybe not?

Since the NHL’s outdoor craze began, the notion that Pennsylvania’s rivals would clash in one of them eventually was a given. Now, that eventuality seems headed toward reality as the two teams will more than likely take the ice in a game next year, possibly in Pittsburgh, with another game to be played the following year in Philadelphia.

While the news has puck fans in both cities excited by this possibility, the rest of the hockey world may be yawning in boredom.

If the Flyers and Pens do meet in next year’s Winter Classic it will be the third time each team has played in the NHL’s annual game.

Perhaps the NHL is hoping to answer this year’s poor television ratings by spotlighting one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. The Montreal Canadiens/Boston Bruins match up this season received a 1.6 rating, by far the worst rating in the game’s eight-year history.

Though, is it possible that the over saturation of the outdoor game with the addition of the outdoor series and the fact that six of the 10 teams that have participated in the Winter Classic have played in the game multiple times are starting to lower the interest in the Classic and the outdoor game itself?

From the beginning there has always been the cry of an East-Coast bias from the NHL, especially when it came to the Winter Classic. Over its history, the game has widely been played on the East Coast and in cold-weather climates, which makes sense.

However, at this stage the NHL has exhausted all of its options on the Eastern side of the country, plus the original six teams to boot. Many think that it’s time to start including some other teams, but the barrier of weather and team popularity is still a hurdle the NHL doesn’t seem willing to conquer, at least not in the Winter Classic.

Sure, if the Flyers and Penguins take Heinz Field next year ratings will improve. But the goal of a game with the novelty of playing outdoors is to grow an audience. And in the NHL’s case, the audiences you want to grow are the ones neglected; places where teams aren’t even considered for the game in the first place.

What do you think? Are you getting tired of the same ole’ same from the NHL when it comes to their annual outdoor events? What changes would you make?

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