The National Hockey League’s Winter Classic is novel idea that the league developed in order to enhance the interest of hockey for both fans and non-fans and to add more revenue to boost the league. The NHL’s plan for 2013 is to fill Ann Arbor’s Big House with more than 110,000 hockey fans for an Original Six matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. There is no better way to fill up the stadium than with two of hockey’s most dedicated fan bases. According the Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke, “It’s Hockeytown against the center of the hockey universe.”
Not only will the event increase revenue in for the NHL, it will also bring in increased spending and profit through tourism for both Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Ticket sales aside, a big element in the NHL’s Winter Classic is merchandising. One of the biggest traditions of the Winter Classic is the throwback design for the teams’ jerseys. If there is any type of merchandise that the fans will want from the Winter Classic, it’s the Winter Classic jersey. The unveiling of the Winter Classic jerseys are always major events for both the teams and their supporters. If the design is creative and unique, Reebok can expect a lot of orders from Maple Leaf and Red Wings fans.
Now one of the significant benefits of becoming a Winter Classic team is the myriad of publicity opportunities, such as the recent installment of HBO’s “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic.” The “Road to the Winter Classic” is a documentary that gives uncensored insight into the sport of hockey. The show takes you on the dramatic journeys of both teams about a month prior to their Winter Classic matchup. With its dramatic set up, the show will attract viewers to want to watch the actual Winter Classic to find out the conclusion of the series.
This renews the old Original Six rivalry between the Wings and Leafs. When most hockey fans think of the Wings’ rivals, the most immediate thought is typically the Chicago-Detroit rivalry. For the Leafs, it’s the Battle of Ontario between the Leafs and the Ottawa Senators. Once the 2012-2013 season starts up in October, fans will be looking forward to the Leafs-Wings matchups before the New Year to get a taste of what will happen on January 1, 2013 at The Big House. If the Winter Classic fires up this Original Six rivalry, this will bring more fans to Detroit-Toronto games at both the Joe Louis Arena and Air Canada Centre for seasons to come.
Aside from the establishment of the classic NHL game, Red Wings owner, Mike Illitch, who also owns the Detroit Lions and Comerica Park, decided to make downtown Detroit a hub of hockey by building a second hockey rink at Comerica Park. This rink will be used for the annual Great Lakes Invitational, two regular season Ontario Hockey League games, an outdoor game between Wings’ and Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliates, Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies, and the traditional Winter Classic alumni game. This can introduce casual hockey fans into becoming even bigger fans of the sport. It’s like watching college football or basketball; you have a chance to see the future stars of the hockey. The addition of the second outdoor rink in Detroit is a great idea to include the past and future of the NHL.
Obviously the Winter Classic is a significant public relations move for the NHL, but the addition of the new hockey rink shows offers new opportunities. There is a clear goal during this off-season – to keep hockey in the minds of fans and provide new outlets to engage in the hockey experience and bring new fans to the table.