Even with the NHL and NHLPA rumored to be discussing a possible return to the negotiation table, it is too late for the NHL to avoid the cancellation of the Winter Classic.
More than 115,000 fans were set to jam Michigan Stadium on January 1st, 2013, at a cost of between $79 and $279 per ticket, to celebrate the annual Winter Classic outdoor game which is also viewed by millions of fans around the globe.
In fact, for many Americans, the Winter Classic is a bigger event than any Stanley Cup game as it offers a unique one-off that attracts millions of fans to their television sets New Years day, from coast-to-coast.
With the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs (two original six franchises) set to face off at next years event, the NHL was set to make a killing in terms of advertising dollars, merchandise sales, seat sales and the invaluable exposure that goes along with the Winter Classic.
Sadly, with the Winter Classic being cancelled, the NHL will not only lose those revenue streams, they’ll also lose the support of more NHL fans as they grow more exhausted with the CBA talks and the loss of NHL hockey.
Make no mistake about it, the cancellation of the Winter Classic is a big deal and may very well spell the end of the 2012-13 season all-together.
With the Winter Classic a mere eight weeks away, the NHL clearly had concerns about the logistics of the event and the pending $3 million in rental deposits that were beginning to come due. The NHL will be on the hook for the original $100,000 deposit they made to reserve the Big House at Michigan University, but that is just a drop in the bucket for a league that has thrown millions of dollars at the fledgling franchise in Phoenix.
As much as this is a sad day for NHL fans, it is also a sad day for the State of Michigan. NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins estimated that the Winter Classic would bring in roughly $75 million to the Michigan economy— money that the State of Michigan and it’s residents are in dire need of due to ongoing unemployment rates.
Throughout the CBA negotiations NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has insisted on a number of drop dead dates— all of which have fallen on deaf ears from the NHLPA.
While Bettman did not speculate that if there was no Winter Classic there would be no NHL hockey this season, there is reason to believe a season long lockout is imminent. Let’s face it, with a full season almost impossible to implement and the Winter Classic being flushed down the toilet like a five-year old kids’ gold fish, the NHL is running out of patience and with the two sides still at odds another season may be lost.
Of course there is no indication that the Winter Classic could not be revisited at a later date. But who are we kidding?
Early speculation has the Red Wings hosting the Maple Leafs at The Big House at the University of Michigan next January. That is, if the NHL and NHLPA can square away their differences by then!
With so much at stake— TV revenue, exposure, marketing, local jobs, player salaries, potential ownership profits, attracting new fans, merchandise sales, etc.— one wonders how the NHL and NHLPA can allow the season to fizzle away.
Sidney Crosby was set to be back for a full season, the NHL is flush with young and exciting talent, the Winnipeg Jets were coming off a tremendous first season (for the second time around anyways), the parity in the league has captured the imagination of the fans, new TV deals were said to be had, the Winter Classic was going to be the biggest hockey event of all-time, everything was “green lights” and the NHL had to lock the players out? Come on man!?!
The owners are not to blame, in fact, with so many teams seemingly losing money, the owners have good reason to have locked the players out. That said, both sides had a duty to avoid a lockout at any cost, including sitting down at the negotiation table months before the CBA was set to expire, not simply days beforehand.
The fact that the two sides are where are they are right now (nowhere) is enough to make NHL fans puke!
The cancellation of the Winter Classic is yet another sad day in what has been a horrible ride for the fans. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail when the final decision is made on the 2012-13 season.