WASHINGTON — Last September, the Washington Capitals delighted local hockey fans by announcing that the 2015 Winter Classic — the NHL’s premier outdoor showcase, held on New Year’s Day — would be coming to D.C. And on June 22, the NHL announced the Caps’ opponents would be the Chicago Blackhawks.
But with only four and a half months left until the event, a venue has yet to be announced.
This may be cause for some concern. A Thursday post on Ted’s Take, the blog written by Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, boasted that the Wizards and Capitals would be playing in D.C. on Christmas and New Year’s Day, respectively. However, nothing more specific was said about a location for the latter event, and a Capitals’ spokesman deferred to the NHL for comment on the event.
When the NHL announced the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, Commissioner Gary Bettman did so on April 7, 2013, during the prior season. On the other hand, the last time the Classic was played at a baseball venue — Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park in 2012 — the announcement of a venue was dragged all the way into September.
That delay resulted from the NHL making a late change from the original planof holding the contest at Lincoln Financial Field. As the arena needs a full week to build the rink, any venue hosting another game during that time span is out.
The Winter Classic has been held six times, thrice each in football and baseball venues. When it was announced that the Classic was coming to the nation’s capital, Nationals Park seemed the obvious choice. Back in 2010, NHL officials also suggested FedExField and even the National Mall as possible host locations.
The Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys in Landover on Sunday, Dec. 28, this year. That would leave only half the requisite time, if the Classic still was held on New Year’s Day, as it has every year but one since its inception (Jan. 2 in 2012).
Any preparations on the National Mall would involve a massive collaboration with government entities. With a new irrigation and parking plan taking top priority, major events such as the Folklife Festival are already moving away from the venue, and would seem to make an undertaking with the construction and security issues of the Winter Classic an impossibility.
One more tweet re Winter Classic. Natl Park Service tells NBC4 NHL inquired about using Natl Mall, but has never sought permits.
Those restrictions effectively limit the suitable venues to Nationals Park or, far less likely, RFK. So the fact that the location has still not yet been announced should raise some eyebrows. Major events — such as recent summer concerts by Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel or One Direction concert at Nats Park — are planned and announced six months, or even a year, in advance.
The holdup creates a backlog for hockey fans. The Caps can’t sell tickets until an opponent, date and venue have been announced. Full season-ticket members will have guaranteed first access to purchase tickets before they go on sale to the general public. The first preseason game is less than six weeks away.
Of course, there’s always Baltimore.
M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, has the same scheduling issue as FedExField. Baltimore hosts the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 28, effectively ruling the football stadium out as a venue. Oriole Park at Camden Yards would presumably be available, although it seats about 25,000 fewer fans (45,971) than the 71,000 that can fit at M&T.
Attempts to reach out to the Nationals and Events DC were also referred to the NHL. A message left with the NHL’s PR office has not been returned.
To have to scramble to put the event together, and face public scrutiny for a poorly organized event that was announced 15 months in advance, would be embarrassing for the NHL. To lose the event entirely to another city — especially Baltimore — would be devastating for D.C.