SBJ/Jan. 13-19, 2014/Events and Attractions

NHL Winter Classic nets $20 million

Packed Michigan Stadium helps push revenue past $30M

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The 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic not only generated the largest attendance and broadcast viewership for a regular-season game in league history, it also made a profit of more than $20 million.

According to an NHL source, the Jan. 1 game at Michigan Stadium posted more than $30 million in revenue against costs of $10 million. Approximately two-thirds of the revenue was derived from ticket sales, with 105,491 fans paying an average ticket price of $186 for an estimated take of $19.6 million. An additional $10 million in revenue came from retail and advertising sales.

A specific breakdown of those categories was unavailable.

As a point of comparison for those numbers: The previous Winter Classic, the 2012 edition at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, is believed to have made $15 million in revenue against costs of $10 million. Additionally, considering the $30 million in revenue from this year’s Winter Classic: That compares to a typical regular-season game for the NHL’s most successful teams — including Toronto, Chicago, Montreal and the New York Rangers — bringing in between $2 million and $3 million.

Michigan Stadium’s capacity and merchandise sales boosted by the weather helped  drive Winter Classic revenue.
Photos: GETTY IMAGES
The Winter Classic is a league-level event, despite this year’s showcase officially being a Detroit Red Wings home game. While the league makes Detroit whole on its financials, beyond that, revenue from the game (like any regular-season game) goes into the NHL’s pool of hockey-related revenue. That amount in turn is used to set the salary cap — money to the players — but the increased riches from the Winter Classic also speak directly to doing what the league outlined last fall when it stated its desire to
increase overall revenue by $1 billion over a three-year span.

Merchandising was undoubtedly a boon this year. Brian Jennings, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the NHL, said sales of event merchandise this year were up 60 percent over the previous Winter Classic high, which was set at the 2011 game between Pittsburgh and Washington at Heinz Field. The league set sales records for the Michigan game in team jerseys and knit hats.

It’s no wonder that NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins previously referred to the retail sales potential around the Winter Classic as “almost like having a 31st franchise.”

There were long lines at all Michigan Stadium merchandise booths beginning more than two hours before the game. Sales were stimulated in part by the larger stadium than past Winter Classic sites as well as the popularity of the visiting Maple Leafs, the first Canadian team to play in a Winter Classic.

“This game exceeded our expectations across every measurable medium,” Jennings said. “The picturesque uniform designs of two Original Six teams, the transformation of the Big House, Mother Nature giving us an assist with the snow — it all made for an amazing visual presentation of our brand.”

Of the $10 million cost to produce the event, $3 million was paid to the University of Michigan to rent Michigan Stadium for four weeks. The other large expense is the set-up and maintenance of the stadium’s rink, which is owned by the NHL and will be used at some of the games in the upcoming Stadium Series.

> NOW, FOR AN ENCORE: Collins knows the question now on the minds of many observers of the Winter Classic.

“Where do we go from here?,” he said, standing in Michigan Stadium.

The event moves to Washington, D.C., in 2015. The most likely destination is Nationals Park, although the NHL has also made site visits to FedEx Field and RFK Stadium. But making the Washington, D.C., Classic special presents a challenge. The game has been played in a pair of iconic baseball stadiums — Fenway Park (2010) and Wrigley Field (2009) — and the 2014 version was the granddaddy of them all, with fans filling Michigan Stadium on a snowy New Year’s Day, watching the Maple Leafs win in a shootout.

Fans of both teams lined up to buy event merchandise long before the puck dropped.
Photo by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / STAFF
There’s also the fact that with the four-game Coors Light Stadium Series and the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic still to come this season as well, five outdoor games will be produced by the NHL before the next Winter Classic.

Still, work needs to be done to make the next New Year’s Day game between the Capitals and an opponent to be determined worthy of the Classic brand. Collins hinted slightly at what to expect.

“An event in the nation’s capital gives us a canvas to be big and creative,” he said. “With the history and the monuments, you have the setting to create something special around the game.”

Collins said the evolution of the Stadium Series has not diminished the Winter Classic.

“It’s still the big one,” Collins said of the Winter Classic. “It’s New Year’s Day. It’s the power of the NBC and CBC promotional machine. You get the HBO ‘24/7’ show. Teams want to be part of the Stadium Series, but the Winter Classic comes with added events and opportunities.”

The Red Wings-Maple Leafs matchup generated the largest television audience in North America in the league’s history. A combined 8.2 million fans watched the game on NBC in the United States and on CBC and RDS in Canada. The previous high was 6.6 million for the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.

Despite the success, Collins remains driven to push the NHL brand to higher levels.

“We’ve made a lot of advances over the last seven or eight years with the NBC partnership and better ratings, but we’re determined to make the NHL more popular,” Collins said. “That’s what drives our staff and it’s where the Winter Classic comes in. I expect that you’ll see us think really big in D.C.”

> HBO HAPPY WITH ACCESS: Despite Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle each slamming the door on HBO cameras once after losses leading up to the Winter Classic, network executives were pleased with the access provided by both clubs.

“It was an intense time, being a fly on the wall while both teams were going through some tough losses,” said “24/7” coordinating producer Bentley Weiner. “The access was incredible, and we forged strong relationships with both teams.”

Weiner added that there were no issues with either club after the isolated instances.

HBO showed Babcock telling camera operators to “Get out,” while Carlyle’s tirade at his players was heard over images of assistant coach Greg Cronin standing outside a locked door.

“It happened once with each club, and we moved on,” Weiner said. “We understand there are going to be some rough moments. They still made for good television.”

Ten crew members, with three cameras, were embedded with each team for four weeks. More than 500 hours of footage were shot for the four one-hour episodes that aired, while the crews worked 29 consecutive days. Sixteen staffers assembled the final cut of each episode. The final one, with the climax of the game played on Wednesday, Jan. 1, was completed less than three hours before its premiere on Saturday, Jan. 4.

“When you look at our schedule for four straight weeks and when the show has to be delivered, there really isn’t anything like it on television,” Weiner said.

> SCENE AND HEARD: About 40,000 of the tickets for the Winter Classic were purchased by fans in Ontario,Canada. …

Enjoying the game from an executive suite at the 50-yard line, PepsiCo Canada President Richard Glover said he expected the upcoming Heritage Classic and Stadium Series will capitalize on the positive metrics of the Winter Classic. “This game is going to be a launching pad for the other outdoor games,” Glover said. “Sponsors like us are going to be able to take advantage of the momentum.” …

PACSI
More than 12,000 fans visited title sponsor Bridgestone’s activation space at Michigan Stadium during the Winter Classic, and another 6,000 stopped by the company’s spot at Comerica Park during four days of hockey events before the big game. Bridgestone uses its title sponsorship of the event to promote its Blizzak line of winter tires. Looking up at the falling snow, Bridgestone vice president of consumer marketing and training Phil Pacsi grinned and said, “You couldn’t draw it up any better.”

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