Where Would a Washington Winter Classic Be?


All screengrabs from Google Maps, photo editing by D. Levy, in scale to fit this column.

I’ve spent a lot of time tracking the Winter Classic, both this year (station break, go read all three of Ben H. Rome’s awesome posts about the Caps’ WC debut and win; they’re really good) and last when the Bruins were a part of an outdoor fest at Fenway Park’s temporary rink, which incidentally also hosted an incredible college hockey matchup the following week that featured the two most recent national champions.

Couple that with an exciting win and the chatter that bubbles around who hosts January 1, 2012, and we have ourselves a photo editing project. Now, it’s highly doubtful that the NHL will repeat a participant in back-to-back years – especially if warmer weather is a concern again – so it’d be pretty surprising to see the Caps back in the Classic next year (my proposal: Stars/Wild at Target Field with Emilio Estevez in a Gordon Bombay jacket dropping the puck). Still, it’s fun to dream, and maybe some day, the Classic will be in the District. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for where to build an outdoor rink in DC.

Nationals Park

As the lead photo indicates – and past experience at Fenway and Wrigley in 2009 have shown – the baseball park scheme for hosting hockey works well. The 85′ by 200′ rink fits with room to spare in a few different positions in the outfield, and if you move it over second base, you probably get the best of all worlds. The thing is, due to the lack of second tier bleachers in Wrigley and the odd layout of the Green Monster, centering the rink over the infield made sense for those parks.

That doesn’t mean it’s how it has to be, so I chose to place it slightly skewed in right field. A few reasons for why this would work in the dimensions of Nats Park. First, the weird angle of the right field wall is actually a better point with which to line up than the first base foul line. Second, generally speaking, the sight lines would be pretty solid, thanks in part to the low gradient pitch of the lower deck and the space in foul territory that would avoid almost all obstructed views in the upper deck.

At nearly 42,000 capacity, Nationals Park would have more room than either of the previous baseball stadium hosts, a number several times the seating at the Phone Booth. Also, with no other events scheduled during the winter, the park would be free to do something along the lines of open ice or even a winter wonderland like Tom mentioned a few weeks back – a definite advantage over other local venues.

FedEx Field

One thing about the capacity of Nationals Park is that while it is better than Fenway or Wrigley, it doesn’t come close to FedEx Field and what it could offer. The attendance at last Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh was 68,000+. Whereas the Steelers’ home at Heinz Field is big, FedEx really only competes with Jerryworld in Dallas when it comes to capacity for pro football. Additionally, completely centering the rink has the same sight benefit as it would in an indoor arena due to the dimensions.

The football stadium problem is that, as unrealistic as it may sound this week, there may be a quick playoff game coming on the heels of the hockey game (after all, we’re talking 2014 here at the earliest by my guess). Either the Redskins spend weeks 16 and 17 on the road to add in time for some of the extracurriculars for guests or the NHL sets up and takes down the rink really quickly. However, given the added transportation needed to get out to Landover, is lots of public access really worth it? FedEx would get the nod for dollar signs and the chance to go for record breaking attendance numbers, but in locality terms, it just may not have the same feel.

So let’s get crazy.

The National Mall

This idea isn’t new, per se, but there are really an incredible amount of challenges when it would come to the idea of building an entire outdoor spectator facility on the mall. Just for the exercise, though, it’s worth just playing around with the idea.

A hockey rink, self-standing, would generally fit in any of the blocks between Independence and Constitution from 14th up to 3rd, NW. The Caps playing literally under the Capitol would be amazing, but in terms of places to fit any actual stands, we’re running out of room once the ice gets placed because of things like “trees” and “Smithsonians.” So, the target area I’ve start toying with is the area just east of 17th at the foot of the monument:

Now, part of me wants that to be a permanent winter addition. After all, we’re throwing practicality to the wind with this idea.

I wanted to get a sense of seating, so I took my photo editor here and decided to move parts of Dan Snyder’s shrine down to the Mall (no word on whether or not signs would be allowed into my imaginary stadium). Of course, this is far from perfect and in no way architecturally sound, we’re just playing with numbers and our imaginations here:

Hmm, ok, it actually kind of fits (if you squint a little). Building 92,000 seats on the Mall is never, ever going to happen for about a bajillion reasons. I don’t know what the record for temporary seats would be, but let’s think about just the lower bowl of FedEx surrounding a Mall rink:

At maybe 40,000 seats in the lower deck and no tiers, we’re talking a reasonable amount of space and buffer for the rink, which wouldn’t put us far away from the Nationals Park capacity. In fact, let’s trim it a little more. I was thinking of other really awesome things you could do with this location, and since I was already moving stadiums, I had another idea, courtesy of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium:

If you leave the east end of this makeshift stadium open, the Monument is literally staring at the rink with the Capitol behind it. Can you picture that landscape? I almost want to play the game at sunrise, just to get an everlasting chill of patriotism. It’d be like a bald eagle draped in an original Betsy Ross whilst drinking a Bud Heavy.

In all likelihood, a Mall set-up (a) wouldn’t be stealing bleachers from another facility and (b) probably be in the 30,000 range. That would be somewhere around double capacity of Verizon, but for the NHL’s newest banner event, that may not be enough of an attendance boost to justify all those extra ludicrous expenses. Nats Park really would be the frontrunner, and FedEx a layup for a second choice.

Lucky for you all, I played a lot of SimCity as a kid, so that “reality” will not stop me from having fun with some stadium designing. It’s kind of fun to be hopeful.

Update, 7 p.m.ish: Some new additions inspired by the comments, specifically RFK, are now up in this post.

Dave Levy is a PR guy by day, a media researcher on the side and a self-proclaimed geek. He blogs often about how traditional media adapts – or tries to adapt – to the growing digital media world at State of the Fourth Estate. You can follow Dave on Twitter for various updates about everything from sports from his previous home in Boston to eccentric and obscure pop culture references. Read why Dave loves D.C.

23 thoughts on “Where Would a Washington Winter Classic Be?

  1. If you look at the television numbers from this year’s Winter Classic, the game actually had a really high share in Baltimore. I think either of Baltimore’s stadiums could play great host to a game in the future.

    Really though, there’s no chance this should happen until at least 2015. Think about how much venom many of us felt towards the Penguins being in 2 out of 3 Winter Classics so far. We had our turn, time for someone else.

  2. I’m more inclined to think Nationals Stadium is the front runner, in part because you’d need Snyder’s permission and willingness to cooperate for FedEx field. Rooney was fully behind using Heinz once the NHL worked out the logistics, but Snyder’s such a looney owner who knows what unrealistic demands he’d lay down.

    The Mall is just unfeasible, as cool as it sounds. The NHL seems to be gearing for capacity over setting (which is why they wanted Heinz Field over PNC Park, which is a prettier setting) and I can’t see them justifying such an outrageous cost to build seating for a one-time event. Much less the cooperation of the NPS.

    I’m also for using third-party facilities, as long as it uses a good mix of teams. Many of the East teams are locks for continual repeats, so I can easily see the Caps being re-invited back every few years, just like the Pens, Flyers, Bruins, Red Wings, and ‘Hawks. In fact, rumor has it that it’ll be Flyers and the Rangers in Filthydelphia for 2012.

    Still, a very interesting exercise, Dave! Great food for thought.

  3. What about the Capitol Reflecting Pool? Granted you’d have to deal with the ducks, but the water is normally frozen over anyways.

    BTW, love the SimCity reference! What we need more of is nuclear power in 1900…and a city budget of $999,999,999.

  4. In Ben’s write-up, he links to a piece by Scott Burnside. He says the Capitals “are expected to host a Winter Classic in the next two or three years, presumably at FedEx Field.”

    I agree with those who say Nationals Park is the better option. Even if attendance is 70,000, that still leaves empty seats to be seen.

    Nationals Park will fill up, is Metro-friendly, and that view of the Capitol at night is priceless.

  5. @Andrew Putting the Capitals Winter Classic in Baltimore would be a travesty. They are the WASHINGTON Capitals. Maybe the Caps could play an exhibition game there, but nothing more.

    That being said, the NHL is of course considering it because they have a problem doing that right thing.

    Ted Leonsis apparently wants FedEx Field, but I think it is too big. He took a shot at DC in a recent blog post, saying Pittsburgh worked with their franchises better. It should be noted that Pittsburgh’s stadia are owned by public authorities and Verizon Center is privately held by Leonsis.

    I vote for Nationals Park and ultimately, I think that would be the place. Mark Lerner is a minority owner in Monumental Sports as well as the Nats, so there is that too.

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  8. DC will get a Winter Classic, Nationals Park is prettier and traveler friendly. I know people who went to the classic and said it was about 50/50, I went to the Steelers Monday night game at FedEx 2 years ago and it was a god damn travesty. It would be embarassing is Penguins fans came out in numbers like they did for the Steelers game.

    C A P S!

  9. Agree with Derek. RFK would be great. Metro friendly, bigger than Nats Park, and the stands would be bouncing like crazy after every Caps goal.

  10. RFK would get my vote for charm, Nats Stadium for the facilities, and the Mall for sheer awesomeness. Regardless of where it was held in the District (includes FedEx loosely but not Charm City) I’d be there with hubs and friends, bundled up, and cheering on the Caps.

    You’ve now inspired me to build DC on SimCity.

  11. Heres what I think should happen:
    -Have it at RFK and let the stands bounce. Also the upper level will be packed. There is no bad seat in that place. Would stay intimate and loud.
    -Unveil a Blue Sweater
    -Play against any of the following huge hockey markets: Red Wings, Montreal, Rangers, Vancouver, ?Nordiques?

  12. I think it should be @ RFK.
    It’s in DC
    It would have better site lines
    It’s more intimate
    Play against the Rangers

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  14. Hey all, really appreciate the comments and glad we could have some fun with this. Given the clamor around RFK, I wanted to take a stab at it and throw some of my thoughts out there. Just posted them here: http://www.welovedc.com/2011/01/04/rfk-and-the-winter-classic/

    I also avoided conversations around the opponents, but because it’s interesting, I think you really can only practically consider US teams (the point of this is really growth of awareness in the States for the NHL, let’s be honest). Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, and maybe the Devils if they get relevant again are really the teams who you can expect to lace up with the Caps.

  15. Wow, I’m surprised at the support for RFK. It’s coming up on 50 years old, has been trashed a lot in baseball circles. This versus the newness of Nationals Park which has better facilities and is something the city can show off.

    Any theories on why RFK is getting support? Is it a new urban outlook thing? Bias against Nationals Park location?

    Maybe just me, used to hearing RFK talked about in poor terms in the baseball discussions, feedback from fans who went there for those three years and really put it down, some even said it smelled poorly in spots.

  16. @Ben – If the Caps get a Winter Classic in DC, I hope they get to host the Islanders. That way your friend the Islanders fan from Gaithersburg doesn’t have to travel all the way to Pittsburgh the next time…

  17. RFK has to be considered. Yes it would need some work to get it up to standards, but it would be money well spent given the money that the WC would bring to the city.

    -First and foremost, RFK has history. Glorious history when our football team actually won. Its got a story, which is what the NHL and NBC would want to sell the game. Pit the Caps v Rangers and stir memories of old Skins v Giants games. Or play the Stars for a bit of Washington v Dallas.
    - Second, its the perfect size. The people would be closer to the rink than at some of the new football stadiums and much better sightlines than a baseball stadium
    - Third, its in DC, which FedEx is not.
    - Fourth, bouncy seats.

    The downsides are that it only holds 53-55K. That would limit the amount of tickets for both sides plus sponsors. It also has no luxury boxes or real club seats for the big wheels and sponsors. It would require upgrades to make it useable for a big event.

    FedEx is too big, to sterile and you would have to deal with Dan Snyder and get the cooperation of the Skins and NFL. Nats Park is a baseball stadium with no discernable history at this point. Byrd Stadium, umm no. Baltimore? Pipe dream. Ted would never, ever, ever allow that to happen.

  18. I think FedEx would work fine. A lot of the problem with the Winter Classic is lower level seating give lousy views of the ice due to the angle. Cover over the first fifteen rows to drop attendance to the 78,000 range and I am comfortable you could fill it. If they are clever, the seats would be covered with white to make it look like snow.

    My guess is that the next two years is a western venue (I’m thinking Invesco Field, perhaps Kings-Avalanche and New York (either the Meadowlands or Citi Field, with Yankee Stadium the frontrunner if the date of the bowl game can be moved. New York is unlikely in 2014 because of the Super Bowl, I’m thinking that is when DC gets it.

    I think the Mall is sadly unfeasible because of what you didnt’ consider, all the support structures that would be needed (hospitality, locker rooms, bathrooms, someplace to put the Zamboni), and I’m afraid in the final analysis, security would be the killer. You just KNOW they’d insist on a huge security perimeter and treating people like they were going through the airport. I would say FedEx is the best bet, followed distantly by Nationals Park. I would not even consider RFK.

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  20. I vote on Prince George’s stadium in Bowie, Maryland. Home of the Bowie baysox. Small stadium, But a great place and it will be the 1st game on TV there.