Did you see the Capitals top the Blackhawks in a thrilling game played outdoors at Washington's Nationals Park? Statistically, you probably did not:
(It is sad that the only way the game's ratings look good is if you compare it to other, indoors, non-special regular-season games.) If that 2.3 holds, it'll be the lowest-rated Winter Classic in the seven-year history of the event.
And that's OK! This game had a lot going against it, starting with the reemergence of New Year's Day college football and ending with the national unsexiness of the host team and city. The NHL and NBC would surely have liked more people to tune in, but these things manage to make a ton of money from other advertising opportunities, not to mention tickets, merchandising, and general awareness-raising.
There wasn't nearly as much buzz during the lead-up as there's been in previous years—some of that Winter Classic fatigue, some of it the lack of an HBO 24/7—but the game delivered, as it always does. It looked fantastic, the action was close and exciting, the pomp made it feel important, there was the requisite dose of outdoor-game weirdness, and everyone there seemed to have a good time. Plus: Billy Idol.
The Winter Classic remains the NHL's single best casual showcase, and it still makes money. There's zero reason to even think about doing away with it, and though some aspects could be better—there have to be better answers to the glare problem—it really is an event that demolishes complaints with its inherent conviviality. Hockey's a niche sport, and the ratings will always reflect that. But sometimes, just being cool and fun has to be enough.