It's official: NHL Winter Classic scheduled for New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium
DETROIT -- All fall, the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor waited on the NHL and its lockout, to find out if the scheduled 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium would go on as scheduled.
When the highly anticipated event was eventually cancelled, plenty in Ann Arbor weren't too happy.
But now, as the NHL restarts the planning process on what could be the biggest hockey event ever staged, commissioner Gary Bettman said cooperation with the Michigan athletic department has been critical.
“They couldn’t have been better with us and more cooperative,” Bettman said. “And as I said, we’re grateful for how well they work with us, but it’s an indication of how well they function as an institution. We’re just thrilled to be working with them.”
At a Sunday morning press conference at Joe Louis Arena, the NHL officially announced what had been an open secret: that the two sides have rescheduled the event for Jan. 1, 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The announcement comes two weeks after Michigan's board of regents reaffirmed the facility rental contract between the two sides.
The game will start at 1 p.m. on New Year's Day, Bettman said.
The league also announced that the Great Lakes Invitational will be held outdoors at Comerica Park in late December, as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comerica Park. Michigan has played in every GLI since 1974. An outdoor GLI was part of the plans for the 2013 Winter Classic.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
He compared the event to when Michigan and Michigan State played in The Big Chill, but said with two of hockey's fan bases converging, the crowd could be even bigger. The official attendance of The Big Chill, verified as a Guinness World Record, was 104,173. The NHL's plan all along has been to break that record and the Michigan Stadium attendance record of 114,804.
“I’ve said this for years, if we could ever get a hockey game at the Big House it would be magical,” Berenson said. “And we had that experience playing Michigan State in 2010 and it was truly magical. And with 110,000 or more people, and I would expect you’ll break that record. I think people will come from far and wide. This will be the experience of a lifetime.”
Despite the cancellation and the year off from what’s become a successful annual event for the league, NHL officials said they expect no dropoff in excitement for the 2014 Winter Classic.
“We said the next Winter Classic would be between these two teams in the Big House, and that’s exactly what’s happening,” Bettman said. “This is a huge event, no matter when it would be played and under any circumstances we had nothing but great anticipation for it”
Bettman said the original scheduling of the event at Michigan Stadium wasn't done with the possibility of a lockout in mind as the unique venue does provide a kind of insurance policy for fan excitement.
“We have always conducted business as usual, and that as always going to be our assumption," Bettman said. "We don’t need to go back and dwell on things, but a lockout or work stoppage was the last thing we wanted, so we were planning up until the last minute to have a normal season.”
Tom Wilson, the president and CEO of Olympic Entertainment, said the city of Pittsburgh saw an economic impact of around $30 million from having 80,000 people at the Winter Classic game.
The league expects an additional 30,000 fans at The Big House -- but the total economic impact will also be divided between Ann Arbor and Detroit, which will host the multiple alumni games as well as the GLI and junior games. Ann Arbor officials have estimated the economic impact at $15 million.
And on Sunday, the NHL was looking at the positive of the year delay: with more planning, the game can be done even better.
“The fact is, the more time we have, the more things we can do better,” Bettman said.
Kyle Austin covers sports for AnnArbor.com.