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Posted on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium gives players a $200 million tool in labor negotiations

By Pete Cunningham

The National Hockey League Players Association and its owners began labor negotiations this week and it appears a second lockout in less than a decade may be imminent when the current collective bargaining agreement ends on Sept. 15.

A prolonged lockout threatens the Winter Classic scheduled to take place at Michigan Stadium on New Years Day, but as a recent National Post article points out, the Winter Classic itself may be the reason that doesn't happen.

The Winter Classic is a unique bargaining chip the players didn't have when labor negotiations resulted in the cancelation of the 2004-05 season.

"With NBC giving the NHL $200 million in that long-term arrangement, the Winter Classic is the league’s great advertising baby to showcase their product to U.S. folks who wouldn’t know Evgeni Malkin was if he was in their soup," writes National Post reporter Jim Matheson.


The 2013 NHL Winter Classic is expected to break the hockey outdoor attendance world record set at the Big Chill at the Big House in 2010.

Angela J. Cesere |

The fact that this year's Winter Classic will be at the largest venue yet adds another reason why the owners -- who directly benefit far more from the revenue generated at the annual event than the players -- might want to avoid a prolonged lockout.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is criticized for most of what he does, his handling of the Winter Classic has not been one of them since the event's inception in 2008. He and the owners don't want to see this year's event go away and the fact that the game will feature two of hockey's most historically popular franchises in the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs only adds to that.

"So while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who does the owner’s bidding, says the league is locking out the players on Sept. 15 when the current collective bargaining agreement ends and there’s no new deal with the players, it seems inconceiveable that we’ll get another season where NHL rinks are dark throughout the winter as it was in 2004," Matheson writes.

As reported by the New York Times earlier this month, the NHL can cancel the game as late as Jan. 1 should a work stoppage stem from a lack of a contract between players and owners. Should that happen, the league would owe the University of Michigan $100,000 of the $3 million dollar rental fee.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon weighed in on the topic after a speaking engagement on Wednesday.

"I hope they get their labor issues resolved and we can play the game as we planned. Let's hope it happens, but if it doesn't, life will go on," Brandon said. "Michigan Stadium has been dark and cold and barren every New Year's Day for the last 80 years. We're kind of used to that, and if something happens where they can't play the game, it'll be the way it's always been.

"Hopefully, if that were the case, they'd come back and play it the next year. We'd love to host it, and I know they'd love for us to host it."

Along with the university, local businesses would lose out financially if the game is canceled. Recent Winter Classic host cities Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia reported spinoff revenue of between $22 and $36 million, according to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Pete Cunningham covers sports for



Thu, Aug 23, 2012 : 1:59 p.m.

If this article was about teachers averaging $60,000 the comments would all be about their greed.

Kai Petainen

Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

yay! i got my tickets, i got my tickets! now, don't cancel it. i have a bunch of folks coming from canada.


Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 10:57 p.m.

Who cares about hockey anyways? I just feel bad for all of the drinkers who will now have to watch football!

Supervenient Man

Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 10:44 p.m.

The lockout isn't "eminent," it's "imminent."

Pete Cunningham

Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 11:13 p.m.

The correction has been made. Thank you.


Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

Supposably, I would say that we are in agreeance.