SBD/December 29, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Winter Classic Has Been Catalyst For NHL's Growth Since Event's Inception

From the moment “snow began falling" over the inaugural NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo back in '08, the NHL had "finally tapped into a vein it had been searching for since Peter Puck,” according to Sam Donnellon of the PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS. NBC’s Bob Costas said, "Before they even dropped the puck to start the game, you instantly felt that this was something different and there was something really cool about this. All of us at NBC, everyone in the stands, and, most importantly, all of the players understood that this was something not just out of the ordinary, but this was something that was going to be tremendously successful and really hit the spot." NHL COO John Collins said, "The advertising community has really been attracted to the NHL as a result of this game. They are now finding many more ways to spend money." Donnellon reports the Winter Classic has been a “catalyst” for the NHL, helping the league experience “5 straight years of growth.” The “fifth straight season of revenue growth finished at $2.9 billion last year.” Sponsorship sales “rose 33 percent in gross earnings last year alone, which included the biggest beer deal in its history with MolsonCoors and Miller Coors.” The All-Star Game is “now the Discover All-Star Game,” and Canada's “answer to the Winter Classic is called The Tim Horton's Heritage Classic.” Donnellon writes, “Don't think the other sports aren't noticing.” The NBA reportedly is “mulling an outdoor event,” North Carolina and Michigan State opened their basketball seasons playing on the USS Carl Vinson and MetLife Stadium won the rights to host the ‘14 Super Bowl. Collins said that technology is “not advanced enough to hold the game below the Mason-Dixon Line yet, but that day may be coming.” There even has been talk of “one day holding four outdoor games on New Year's Day, or its equivalent, further obliterating the college bowl landscape that once owned -- but ceded -- the day.” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "It is something that captures attention for more than just hockey fans, and that's a good thing. But it also gives our fans, our existing fans, another reason to connect to and celebrate the game and that is as important as anything else that we're doing" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 12/29).

BEHIND THE LOGISTICS: The Winter Classic features a “heated rivalry in one of baseball’s most popular stadiums,” and the Phillies were “happy to host the grudge match.” Phillies President & CEO David Montgomery said, “We probably didn’t anticipate just how comprehensive the whole thing is. I give the NHL credit. It’s quite an undertaking.” Gelston noted there is “a free, three-day festival outside the CBP gates, Penn State plays Neumann University on Jan. 4 and Villanova plays Drexel the following day.” The Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms, play the Hershey Bears on Jan. 6. There is also a high school game, and “open public skating -- for $60 an hour.” About “175,000 fans are expected for the open-air events.” Flyers President & COO Peter Luukko said, “It’s a confirmation that Philadelphia is not just a Flyers town, but a bona fide hockey market.” Citizens Bank Park is “configured to a bit more than 44,000 seats: 20,000 tickets went to the Flyers, 10,000 for the Rangers, 4,000 for the Phillies and the rest to the NHL and corporate sponsors.” The Flyers also “allocated 1,300 tickets to youth hockey groups at discounted prices.” Bettman said, “We look for teams, we look for matchups, we look for facilities that we think when we put them all together, people will get excited about it” (AP, 12/28).
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