The Big House is expected to welcome the biggest hockey crowd ever when U-M hosts the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
The U-M Athletic Department and the National Hockey League last week announced the decision during press conferences at Comerica Park and Michigan Stadium.
The National Hockey League will rent the stadium for the Jan. 1, 2013 game, which will feature the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We are excited to provide the NHL with use of our beautiful Michigan Stadium for the Winter Classic,” said Dave Brandon, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics. “This will be a way for hockey fans around the globe to experience Michigan Stadium and the University of Michigan. This event will have a significant positive economic impact on the Ann Arbor community and the state of Michigan.”
During the announcement Feb. 9 at the Big House, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presented Brandon with a $250,000 check from NHL Charities for the general scholarship fund at U-M.
The announcement followed the Board of Regents’ action on Feb. 8 to proceed on licensing Michigan Stadium for the event. “It’s a sign of the relationship and the class that the NHL has brought to this,” Brandon said during the regents meeting.
The Winter Classic likely would have an economic impact of more than $14 million for Ann Arbor and the region, Brandon said. While a consultant has put the economic impact on the area for a typical football game at $14 million, Brandon said the Winter Classic’s impact could be greater. That’s because attendees could plan longer stays and seek hotel rooms to celebrate the New Year as well.
Brandon stressed that while stadium and U-M operations staff would work with the event in a support role, the NHL would run the show. “It’s very important to understand that this is not a university event. We’re not in the business of marketing this event. We’re not in charge of the sponsors. It’s all going to be the NHL,” Brandon said.
This will be the second time in three years that the Big House will host an outdoor hockey game. Michigan hosted rival Michigan State in the Big Chill at the Big House on Dec. 11, 2010, before a Guinness Book of World Records crowd of 104,173. Winter Classic organizers say they expect to break that record. The game will be broadcast nationally by NBC Sports.
In the request presented to regents, the NHL would require use of the stadium from Dec. 1 until mid-January to allow for the installation and removal of its equipment and property. A liquor license would be sought to allow the sale of alcohol at the stadium during the event. State law permits the university to obtain 12 such special licenses per year.
The regents enthusiastically supported the measure. Board Chair Denise Ilitch recused herself from the vote, citing her family’s financial interest in the Detroit Red Wings.
“One of the factors that we discussed in considering this was the economic value to the city of Ann Arbor and the surrounding community, and the good that this would do for restaurants and shops and hotels and other activity in the area,” Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said. “It’s a time of year when it’s otherwise quiet. Doing something like this makes a lot of sense.”
In connection with the Winter Classic, the U-M men’s ice hockey team will participate in the 2012 GLI Tournament to be held outdoors at Comerica Park in Detroit.
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