SBJ/December 12-18, 2011/Events and Attractions

Winter Classic events fill up Philly’s calendar

The expanded schedule for the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia has boosted the event’s local footprint, and despite a drop in the number of partners activating on-site, sponsorship for the showcase has increased again.

The week of events at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park features an alumni game on Dec. 31, the marquee matchup between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 2, and an AHL game between the Adirondack Phantoms and Hershey Bears on Jan. 6. All three games have sold out the 47,000-seat stadium. A smattering of public skating sessions and amateur games also will be held during the week.

“Being in a baseball stadium means we have more flexibility with scheduling because we can have [the rink] down for a longer time,” said Susan Cohig, senior vice president of integrated marketing for the NHL. “Being in a football stadium limited our ability to plan incremental events.”

League partners will activate at the alumni game as well as the Jan. 2 Winter Classic, and the spectator plaza activation zone will be open for both events. The Winter Classic will be broadcast on NBC, and league representatives said the NHL is still finalizing broadcast details for the alumni game.

NHL and Flyers officials announced the Winter Classic in September at Citizens Bank Park, which will host three games during the week.
Photo by: COMCAST-SPECTACOR
In 2011, the league had limited use of Heinz Field because of the NFL Steelers’ playoff schedule. The home-team Penguins built a rink in the parking lot to accommodate public skating and held an AHL game at Consol Energy Center. The league debuted the alumni game on Dec. 31 and sold 10,000 tickets at $25 each for a 9:30 a.m. game that aired on the NHL Network.

David Peart, senior vice president of sales and service for the Penguins, believes the team easily could have sold out all 70,000 seats at Heinz Field for the alumni game. “We had operational constraints,” Peart said.

This year, the league will host the alumni game at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 31. Tickets sold for $50, and according to a Flyers source, the game has generated more than $2 million in ticket revenue, which is split between the team and the Phillies. Broadcast details for the alumni game have not been finalized.

Tickets to the Jan. 6 AHL game started at $22 and also have sold out. According to a team source, the game has already brought in just under $1 million in revenue, which also will be split between the Flyers and the Phillies.

Flyers team partners such as Toyota, Pepsi, Ransome Cat machinery rental and Comcast will activate around the AHL game.

“Our goal was to have a hockey week in Philadelphia,” said Peter Luukko, president and COO of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center. “Tickets for the Winter Classic were harder to get than a Super Bowl ticket, so we wanted to give more people the ability to see an outdoor game.”

The Winter Classic is a league-operated event, so the league collects all revenue from ticket sales for the Jan. 2 game. This year, tickets ranged from $79 to $349.

According to a league representative, sponsorship revenue for this year’s event is up 22 percent over 2011. Gatorade, Bridgestone, Verizon, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Honda and Geico will all introduce new broadcast spots for the NBC telecast.

The increase in revenue comes despite a drop in partners activating around the spectator plaza. For 2012, eight partners will activate, while 13 partners held experiential marketing setups for fans in 2011. Existing partners Upper Deck, Pepsi and Dick’s Sporting Goods will not activate this year at the event.

Title sponsor Bridgestone will again have fans shoot pucks against local amateur goalies for a chance to win Blizzak tires. MillerCoors makes its Winter Classic debut with a version of the Molson Hockey House bar and lounge, which it debuted at the Vancouver Olympics. Honda, Verizon, Pepsi, Geico, McDonald’s and Comcast-Xfinity will also have on-site activation.Reebok has discontinued its Zigloo shooting apparatus and instead will have fans shoot at targets in a goal. The apparel manufacturer will display its usual Winter Classic offerings of jerseys and outerwear on-site as well as at local Modell’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods stores.

Keith Leach, director of NHL merchandising for Reebok, said last year’s game in Pittsburgh produced the best merchandise sales of any NHL event. Leach said the event has evolved from around 75 percent jersey sales to roughly a 50/50 split between jerseys and headwear. This year, Reebok has grown the style offering of knit hats by 25 percent.

“It’s a very effective one-day event,” Leach said. “It’s right up there with the Super Bowl.”

Staff writer Terry Lefton contributed to this report.

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