Holiday traditions take years to develop. Turkey, pumpkin pie, and the Detroit Lions have meant "Thanksgiving Day" for millions of Americans.
Christmas Day has long been the NBA's showcase, although never totally obscuring presents, tinsel, and Santa Claus. This past Christmas, the NBA upped the ante by offering almost a full day of games, including Heat/Knicks, Celtics/Magic, Clippers/Suns, and Nuggets/Blazers. And the highlight of the day was the defending champion Lakers hosting King James and the Cavs.
The NHL has taken ownership of New Years Day with its Winter Classic, played this afternoon at the historic park at the Fens. The third Classic is a regular league game played on an unusual surface - the irregular ice of an outside rink. And it seems that the NHL has found a marketing jackpot and put it's product into the national consciousness.
But another sport used to own New Years: College Football. The old Bowl system meant wall-to-wall games, and with a "mythical" national championship at stake, oftentimes three or even four games were "must-see" TV. Starting with the first BCS Championship Game in January 1999, college football has devalued its (erstwhile) signature day, and most (if not all) of the top-5 teams do not play at all on January 1st. (The most competitive game - on paper - is the Sugar Bowl featuring #5 Florida and #4 Cincy. The most compelling (non-championship game is the Fiesta Bowl with #6 Boise State vs. #3 TCU).
There are plenty of problems with the current BCS system - including 3 undefeated teams this year, including one for sure (the BSU/TCU winner) who will be unbeaten at the end of the year. But giving up "ownership" of a National holiday is another issue that the NHL - for one -isn't complaining about.