How much does it cost to rent the Big House for six weeks? Try $3 million. That's what the NHL will pay the University of Michigan to lease Michigan Stadium from Dec. 1 until the middle of January, according the agreement unanimously approved Wednesday by the Board of Regents. The NHL also has agreed to donate an undisclosed amount for student scholarships. The NHL will stage its annual Winter Classic at the Big House on Jan. 1 with an alternate date set for Jan. 2, in case of rain, too much snow or global warming. Athletic director Dave Brandon said face-off for the game between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs would be at noon.
Why the Big House? Brandon said the NHL was "hell-bent" to break the world record for hockey attendance set there in 2010. Why $3 million? "Totally negotiated," Brandon said, "as a result of what we felt was a worthwhile contribution to our department and the university for the work and effort that we're going to go to to make this event happen." Why do it at all? "We have Michigan Stadium sitting over there empty on New Year's Day 2013," Brandon said. "One of the things you try to do is leverage our assets in a way that provides us opportunities to make them available and also generate some income."
Patt Leggs (@nhlfanchat), senior writer of www.nhlfanchat.com first reported Jan. 8th that the Wings and Leafs would play Jan. 1 in the Big House. The official announcement came this morning from the NHL in a news conference at Comerica Park, which will be the site of another series of outdoor games, including the Great Lakes Invitational, which will include the Wolverines. The announcement needed to wait until February for a few reasons, especially because the Wings have been on the road since Jan. 23 and including the U-M regents needed to approve Brandon's request for the event. U-M President Mary Sue Coleman ran Wednesday's special meeting, with most regents attending via conference call. Regent Denise Ilitch, whose father, Mike, owns the Wings, abstained from voting.
Brandon stressed that the Winter Classic would not be a university event, and as such the NHL would handle all ticket sales. Students aren't on campus at that time and he said he hoped the football team would be playing in a bowl. "The Winter Classic's gonna get played, whether it's here or someplace else," he said. "And it has for the last several years and we've never felt an impact. "A lot of people, their routine is to watch the Winter Classic ... and then shift over to watch the bowl games later in the afternoon." For marketing and seating purposes, Michigan Stadium will be turned over to the NHL. Brandon said U-M would provide a game operations crew and assist in NHL in working with police.
Brandon said parking was part of the lease agreement and U-M's lots would be made available. But Brandon said the golf course, used for parking and tailgating for football games, will not be available at that time. "In a time of year," Brandon said, "when the university is pretty much closed down, we won't have students on campus. We feel the parking issue will probably be less cumbersome than it is during the fall in football season." Brandon said a consulting firm indicated a few years ago that when U-M held a football game the economic impact was about $14 million to the region.
"This, I actually would suggest, will be greater," Brandon said. "Because we'll bring in more of a national crowd for this. The fact that many people will be traveling in on New Year's Eve and will spend New Year's Eve here and in the surrounding area, I think will be significant." Before the Winter Classic, a series of games over several days will be played at Comerica Park. The games include the GLI (with U-M, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Western Michigan), an American Hockey League matchup between the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Wings' affiliate) and the Toronto Marlies, and Ontario Hockey League affairs between the Plymouth Whalers and London Knights and the Windsor Spitfires and Saginaw Spirit. There also will be youth and high school games.
A Wings alumni team will play a Leafs alumni team, too. Chris Osgood, who retired after last season, confirmed to the Free Press that he would play in the game. Dominik Hasek and Mike Vernon also Stanley Cup-winning netminders for the Winged Wheel -- are expected to take turns in goal, too.