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Do NHL players, alumni deserve larger slice of the Winter Classic revenue pie?

Greg Wyshynski
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Like the All-Star skills competition, the NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game is starting to create more buzz and memories than the main event. In 2010, Mario Lemieux's return to the ice basically created the alumni game in Pittsburgh. This season, the Eric Lindros and Bernie Parent Show packed 45,000 fans into Citizens Bank Park.

Which is to say that the event is a success, both in popularity and financially. Hence, the men that make the event possible, the NHL alumni, are wondering if they actually get enough of a benefit out of this.

Dave Feschuk and Rick Westhead of the Toronto Star have a story on Thursday that, frankly, makes one reconsider the alumni game experience. Because players ain't getting' paid, yo:

Multiple alumni sources said they weren't paid for their services. Another source with knowledge of alumni affairs said he'd heard they were paid a nominal fee of $200. Perhaps there is more to the story.

While airfare and accommodations were also covered, some players actually spent money to play in the alumni game. Airline baggage fees meant lugging hockey equipment to Philadelphia cost about $50 to $100. Those who didn't want to travel with hockey sticks could purchase one in the dressing room for $50.

This all speaks to a question that'll no doubt come up in the next CBA war this fall: The revenue generated by the Winter Classic, and the players' share of it.

In terms of the alumni game, NHL COO John Collins inferred to the Star that this is a new event with some growing pains, saying that it's the home team — the Philadelphia Flyers — that organizes the alumni game.

Steve Larmer, the former New York Rangers forward and a longtime NHLPA heavy, wants to see some sort of fund for struggling ex-players created or fueled by Winter Classic alumni game revenue: "I think everyone involved would love to know that they are doing something that doesn't just help the NHL team owner, but also does some good."

What does the financial pie look like for the Winter Classic? From Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press, writing about the 2013 game:

Even though this would be a Wings home game on the schedule, it really is a league event. The league essentially buys a home game from the host team. The NHL writes a check for the revenue from one home game (and rounds up, of course), then controls the event.

As far as revenue generated, The Atlantic reported that it can be upwards of $36 million to the host city:

That's how much Boston reaped in 2010, when 38,112 people braved the elements to watch the Bruins beat the Flyers in overtime at Fenway Park.

Last year's game, held at Heinz Park in Pittsburgh, wasn't quite that lucrative. Revenues there were about $22 million, even 68,111 fans attended, says Craig Davis, vice president of sales and marketing for Visit Pittsburgh, the city's tourism agency.

The lower tally was due to the fact that about half the spectators were from the Pittsburgh area and spent only $34 a day on game-related expenses, or about $6.1 million.

Again, that's for the host city; which means above and beyond tickets and merchandise. So we're just talking a massive amount of coin generated by the event.

Next year, the Winter Classic is going to shatter records. The alumni game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will be an essential part of that celebration. Based on the Star story, it's a fairly easy fix for the NHL: Take ownership of the alumni event, seeing how dramatically its grown, and ensure that either the players themselves are better compensated or that the money goes into a fund to help ex-players.

But what about the current players in the Winter Classic?

The Winter Classic revenue is shared between the players and the NHL through their collectively bargained percentages. The bigger the Classic, the more the rest of the NHL's players benefit.

But again: What about the current players in the Winter Classic?

Their participation in unpredictable, uncontrollable elements is the reason we have a game. They hype it. They market it. They appear on candid reality shows on pay cable for it. Yes, the NHLPA as a whole benefits; but should the players who compete in the game directly benefit in a greater way, considering how much revenue is being generated off their efforts to sell and compete in an special attraction?

We're not sure what the answer is. But it wouldn't surprise us at all to hear Donald Fehr ask the question this year.

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