NHL Cancels 2013 Winter Classic

What began as perhaps the most anticipated—and lucrative–Winter Classic ever is now no more.  Earlier today, the NHL made the announcement to cancel the 2013 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Featuring arguably the NHL’s premier franchise in the Red Wings, as well as the first Canadian team to play in a Winter Classic, eagerness ran high since the announcement was made in early 2012.

With the NHL lockout claiming more games in November, the canceling of the NHL’s signature cash cow event cannot be undone.  It is estimated that the cancellation will result in the loss of $3 million–$3.5 million for some league sponsors, as well as tens of million to the already struggling Detroit area.  Those 115,000 expected to attend the event at Michigan Stadium will now have to wait until Jan. 1, 2014 to see the event.  They also have the option to refund their tickets.  In a market dominated by  the Superbowl, and to a lesser extent, the NBA’s Christmas Day games, the Winter Classic offers the common sports fan a day to themselves to appreciate the game, with the league trying to send a message essentially saying “While there’s Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA, the NHL is here, too.”  The first Sunday belongs to the NFL, Christmas to the NBA, and the belief was that Jan. 1 was the NHL’s day.

But, no more.  For this year at least. With a league that lost a great amount of fans and revenue after the 2004-2005 lockout (Only the Outdoor Life Network was willing to carry the NHL post-lockout), you’d think there’d be some sort of compromise to get this signature events going, but unfortunately, the answer is no.  And with new college football playoff formats coming, the hits just keep on coming for the NHL, who seems to be digging their own grave, despite the recent partnership with NBC Sports and the fact that a major market in Los Angeles just won the Stanley Cup, bringing hockey to what is usually a baseball town.

The NHL believed that total revenue from the Winter Classic would equate to roughly $70 million.  This isn’t including the concurrent—and also cancelled—outdoor event at Detroit’s Comerica Park, which would have started on Dec. 27.  Termed the “Hockeytown Winter Festival,” it would have featured an NCAA tournament with Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Michigan Tech playing against each other, as well as an AHL game between the affiliates of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, respectively.  The very anticipated Alumni game between Detroit and Toronto legends is now lost.  These events will still continue, but in the less-appealing Joe Louis Arena, located in Detroit.  In a statement by the NHL, it was expected these events would draw over 400,000 people.

Another fatality is the third season of the thrilling and captivating HBO reality series “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic.”  Giving the fan a look inside the locker room and everyday life of an NHL player, and despite the fact that there could’ve been a rise in ratings due to a large Canadian audience, this unique perspective will also have to wait another year.   Also lost are the throwback jerseys and sweaters, the event hats, jackets and special commemorative pins.

Paying $3 million to secure the rights to play at Michigan Stadium, the NHL had to forfeit (to them, meager) $100,000 today to the University of Michigan for cancelling the Winter Classic. While Deputy Commissioner of the NHL Bill Daly stated he doesn’t anticipate anymore games being cancelled anytime soon (Technically, games after Nov. 30 are still “on”), the damage is already done to the league’s reputation.  What was a rising league following the last lockout has now become a laughingstock again, with the cancelling of the Winter Classic perhaps the climax of such.

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