NHL’s annual Winter Classic still seeking a venue for Capitals-Blackhawks on New Year’s Day


NHL officials are taking their sweet time naming a host stadium for the 2015 Winter Classic in Washington. Nationals Park, above, appears to be the front-runner while FedEx Field has been ruled out, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. (Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

Since it was announced in December that the Washington Capitals would host the 2015 Winter Classic, it has been widely assumed the most natural venue for the game was Nationals Park.

NHL representatives visited Nationals Park, in addition to RFK Stadium and FedEx Field, a person with knowledge of the situation said at the time of the announcement, and had pegged the ballpark as the likely site for the annual New Year’s Day game.

But with one month left until the NHL preseason begins and with the Jan. 1 game between the Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks less than five months away, there has still been no official announcement where it will be held, and a source with knowledge of the negotiations said Friday there are hurdles left to clear.

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis recently expressed excitement over having both the Capitals and the Washington Wizards, which he also owns, involved in marquee games this coming season — though he steered clear of revealing a location for the Winter Classic event.

“The Wizards will play on national TV on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden in NYC against the Knicks, and then the Caps will play on New Year’s Day here in DC against the Chicago Blackhawks,” Leonsis wrote on his blog Thursday.

The venue announcement for the 2012 Winter Classic, the most recent game held at a baseball stadium, fell along a similar timeline. The NHL didn’t name Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park until Sept. 26, 2011. Sites for the 2009 and 2010 Winter Classics, on the other hand, were announced by the league in mid-July. The site for this year’s game in Ann Arbor, Mich., was announced in April 2013.

The chief executive of Events DC, the city authority that administers RFK Stadium, said his agency has had no direct role in the Winter Classic site discussions in months.

Under the Nationals’ lease with the city, the team would have final say in allowing the use of the publicly financed, city-owned ballpark. Events DC CEO Greg O’Dell said Friday he understands negotiations between the Nationals and the NHL are ongoing. “I have not been told definitively by anybody that they have ceased discussions,” he said.

O’Dell said his agency floated RFK Stadium as a possible location for the Winter Classic months ago and had some discussions with the NHL about that site, but the league has not approached Events DC about RFK since talks with the Nationals began.

“For us, first and foremost, we want it in Washington, D.C. We’ll be supportive of any of the venues, and we’ll make RFK an option if necessary,” O’Dell said.

According to a spokesperson for the National Parks Service, the NHL made an informal enquiry about using the National Mall, but no permit applications have been issued.

FedEx Field has been ruled out, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions, because the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys play there Dec. 28. That would leave little time to erect the outdoor rink for the 1 p.m. puck drop four days later.

RFK Stadium theoretically would offer a nostalgic angle, or the NHL could explore holding the game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, which would create more of a neutral-site game outside the Washington Beltway. M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, hosts the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 28, creating a similar problem as FedEx Field.

A spokesman for Major League Baseball deferred comment to the Capitals, saying the league has not been involved in past Winter Classic negotiations with baseball stadiums.

A Nationals spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Spokesmen for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the company owned by Leonsis that runs the Capitals and Wizards, and the Capitals deferred questions on the Winter Classic to the NHL. A league official with knowledge of the negotiations did not return a request for comment.

Reporters Steven Goff, Mike Jones, Adam Kilgore and James Wagner contributed to this report.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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