In other words, it's the only hockey game besides the Winter Classic that most casual U.S. sports fans are going to watch.
An Olympic final featuring the U.S. team is going to draw eyeballs on its own, but a Winter Classic shooting for the same audience needs to bring a little more than cold, snow and second-tier entertainment if it's going to cement its position as one of the biggest events in all of sports.
With a little more attention, the NHL could strengthen the Winter Classic to the point where advertisers not only are compelled to spend significant money on it but to make commercials exclusively for it.
The league could broaden its Winter Classic offerings to include better coverage of the alumni game, more parties and events in the host city and some top-tier talent for its music and presentation portions. More importantly, it could tie together its HBO 24/7 Winter Classic documentaries, NBCSN coverage and on-the-ground events with something stronger than a logo.
The NHL needs the Winter Classic as a gateway brand, but it needs it even more as a cornerstone event. If it thinks bigger, it can have both.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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