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Booze and bucks: How NHL, Michigan secured The Big House for 2013 Winter Classic

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So just how big does the NHL have to go to secure The Big House for its annual Winter Classic in 2013?

The League has offered the University of Michigan $3 million to lease its football stadium for a Jan. 1 Original Six match-up of the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, in what could be played in front of a world-record crowd.

University Regents on Wednesday approved a request by athletic director Dave Brandon to lease Michigan Stadium, which drew 104,173 in 2010 for a college hockey game between in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State.

Brandon expects to finalize a deal "soon" and cleared a major hurdle when five regents voted unanimously to approve the lease request.

The NHL has called two press conferences for Thursday. The first will be held at Detroit's Comerica Park Thursday morning while a second — held inside Michigan Stadium — will take place in the early afternoon.

Brandon told regents the process was much more complicated than he originally believed, after he was first approached by the NHL in November about possibly using the site.

Yahoo! Sports reported last month the two sides were in advanced discussions, but that there were many sticking points that had to be ironed out before a deal was done.

Among them was the sale of alcohol at the 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium, which sits on Michigan's campus, making it illegal to sell alcohol at Michigan sporting events.

"We had never done [an event] that requires licensing and regulatory approvals and a variety of moving parts we had never really contemplated before," Brandon said Wednesday.

Asked if not selling alcohol would have been a deal-breaker with the NHL, Brandon said negotiations never reached that point because he knew the university had 12 one-day liquor licenses at its disposal.

Andrea Miller, the public information officer for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, said non-profit organizations have 12 one-day licenses per year to use. But in order to receive them, organizations must complete a lengthy application, outlining the requirements for alcohol to be sold at events.

[Read the application here.]

Brandon wrote in his request to regents that the current stadium concessionaire is not permitted to obtain the 1-day license. He expects, however, the university will contract with the current concessionaire to provide staffing for the alcohol service.

Also clogging up the works was the fact that Michigan's campus will be, in effect, shut down on Jan. 1. Michigan plays its final football game on Nov. 17 — one-and-a-half months before the Winter Classic would be played.

Brandon said the $3-million figure was negotiated on but that he also had a jumping off figure he needed to reach to make it worth the university's while. The NHL has also, Brandon said, offered to donate money to the university's scholarship fund to help sweeten the deal.

Regent Denise Ilitch — daughter of Red Wings' owner Mike Ilitch — was on Wednesday's conference call with University President Mary Sue Coleman and Brandon, but recused herself from the final vote.

"While I have no direct interest, it is well known that my family has interest in the Detroit Red Wings," Ilitch said via phone at Wednesday's meeting.

Brandon also expects hosting the Winter Classic to be a huge boon for the Ann Arbor region. A study conducted by a consulting firm concluded that an average Michigan home football game brings $14 million in revenue to the area.

Brandon said because of the Winter Classic's national appeal — one expected to stretch into Canada because of the Maple Leafs' involvement — could well exceed the $14-million figure.

The size of the venue was clearly of interest of the NHL, which drew its biggest Winter Classic attendance in 2008 with an NHL-record 71,217 in Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium. The University of Michigan currently holds the Guinness Book of World Record mark for the largest crowd to witness an outdoor hockey game.

The 2010 Big Chill broke the previous mark of 77,803, which was set at the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Germany.

The largest crowd to witness a football game at Michigan Stadium is 114,804 — reached in 2011 when the university hosted its first night game against Notre Dame.

Brandon recognized Wednesday the mark Michigan Stadium held could be in jeopardy.

"The NHL is hell-bent on break the record we set in our event and I hope they do," Brandon said. "Because then we're going to come back and have another hockey game and try and break their record."

Jeff Arnold can be reached at jeffarnold24@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @jeff_arnold24.

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