By Jeff Arnold
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has been around business dealings long enough to always have a Plan B in mind. But if an NHL work stoppage leads to the cancellation of the 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, Brandon won't fret.
At least not too much.
"Let's hope it happens, but if it doesn't life will go on," Brandon said Wednesday in a speech at the Detroit Athletic Club.
The contract between the NHL and University of Michigan allows the league to cancel the Jan. 1 outdoor game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs as late as Jan. 1, according to a report earlier this month in The New York Times.
When the deal was announced for the Winter Classic to be held inside Michigan Stadium, the league announced it would pay a $3 million rental fee for use of the venue.
If lack of a collective bargaining agreement causes the cancellation of the Winter Classic, the league would only forfeit $100,000 of the $3 million fee. The contract also allows the NHL to hold the event even if a lockout delayed the start of the new season.
The contract stipulates that the NHL would treat a work stoppage in a similar fashion to a "force majeure" cancellation brought on by an act of God, riot, weather, disaster or other activity beyond the league's control.
The Times also reported that the cancellation of the game would also strip NBC of one of its marquee hockey broadcasts. The league receives $200 million a year from NBC. Since a Canadian team is involved in the Winter Classic for the first time ever, the league is expecting a serious bump in viewership on CBC, which, according to The Times, pays the league around $100 million a year for television rights.
The University of Michigan has already gone to great lengths to prepare for its second outdoor hockey game in three years. In June, Michigan legislators passed a bill that allows alcohol to be served inside Michigan Stadium.
The local economy in Ann Arbor is also counting on an economic boost from an event that would draw as many as 115,000 fans. Ticket prices range between $79 and $279 with tickets being sold at seven different pricing levels.
Brandon said earlier this year that an average Michigan home game generates between $14 million and $15 million for local businesses, including hotels and restaurants.
Brandon expects the Winter Classic could generate even more money, which has been evidenced in recent years. According to the league, the annual winter outdoor game generates between $30 million and $36 million for host cities.
In February at the official announcement of the Winter Classic's 2013 destination, NHL chief operating officer John Collins estimated the economic impact for the weeklong hockey celebration could top the $75 million scale for southeast Michigan, taking both the Detroit and Ann Arbor venues into consideration.
The cancellation of the event, in this case, would not only impact one city, but two.
While the actual Winter Classic will be played in Ann Arbor — many of the ancillary events, including the alumni game, fan fest and other games leading up to the Red Wings-Maple Leafs' showdown will be played at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.
That, according to one local official, spells double trouble.
"The Winter Classic is definitely a huge deal for the Ann Arbor area," said Mary Kerr, president of the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors' Bureau. "But if you look at the big picture, our whole region would suffer if the event were canceled."
Kerr said Thursday that she expects the direct economic impact on Ann Arbor to be in the $14 million-$15 million range — surpassing that of a typical Michigan football home game. Last year, the area saw $15 million in estimated economic impact when Michigan and Notre Dame played in the first night game at Michigan Stadium when many area hotels required a minimum two-night stay for the event.
Several hotels will require the same two-night stay for the Winter Classic, coming at a time, Kerr said, when hotels and other area businesses typically experience slower business.
The Winter Classic would provide a "boost" for such area businesses.
"Losing something [the Winter Classic] that we've been planning for and anticipating," Kerr said, "would be very disappointing."
On Wednesday, Brandon said should the Winter Classic be canceled, the university would not go ahead and host another outdoor game in its place.
In 2010 when Michigan Stadium attracted a world-record 104,173 for the Big Chill At The Big House pitting rivals Michigan and Michigan State against one another, work crews spent weeks constructing a rink in preparation for the game.
Instead of scurrying to replace the Winter Classic with a game of its own, Brandon said Wednesday the university would petition the league to host the game in 2014 instead.
"We'd love to host it and I know [the league] would love for us to host it," Brandon said.
"Michigan Stadium has been dark and cold and barren every New Year's Day for the last 80 years. We're kind of used to that, and if something happens where they can't play the game, it'll be the way it's always been."