LOS ANGELES – The NHL will not get the Guinness world record for hockey attendance despite packing Michigan Stadium for the Winter Classic, a league source told Yahoo Sports on Friday night.
The league sold 105,491 tickets for the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings on New Year’s Day – enough to break the record of 104,173, set when Michigan State played Michigan at the Big House in 2010.
The stands were essentially full. But the margin was thin, and the NHL announced only the number of tickets sold because it could not complete an accurate count. Cold, snowy weather made traveling treacherous. Fans were still entering the stadium as late as the second period. Ticket-takers stopped scanning stubs.
The NHL had to agree to a preapproved accounting method with Guinness, and it chose a barcoded ticketing system. Guinness had an official adjudicator on site, Alex Angert, who said he could count only fans whose tickets were scanned, plus media and officials who came only to watch the game.
The league still seemed to have a shot afterward. At the “Big Chill at the Big House” in 2010, Michigan announced a crowd of 113,411 – even though Guinness was on site and certified only 85,451 at the time mainly because ticket scanners froze in the cold. About a month later, after analyzing photos of the stands, Guinness certified the attendance at 104,073. It now lists it at 104,173.
Officially, the league hasn’t given up hope.
“They said it was going to take a while,” said NHL chief operating officer John Collins. “We haven’t heard that it’s not the record. We just haven’t heard anything.”
Guinness officials could not be reached for comment Friday night. But the source said privately the league had let it go.
The NHL still obliterated its own attendance record of 71,217, set at the first Winter Classic in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, by about 30,000.
The league still has succeeded selling tickets to its six outdoor games this season. Collins said only about 100 tickets remain for Saturday night’s game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and only about a couple hundred remain for Wednesday night’s game at Yankee Stadium in New York. Sunday’s game at Yankee Stadium and the March 1 game at Soldier Field in Chicago are sold out. An unspecified number of tickets remain for the March 2 game at B.C. Place in Vancouver.
But make no mistake: This is a blow. NBC trumpeted the Winter Classic as the biggest hockey game ever. Some merchandise referenced the world record. NHL officials tried to think of everything they could to count everyone– even using hand-warmers to keep the scanners’ batteries from freezing.
After warm-ups New Year’s Day, the public-address announcer told the fans that they were already part of an NHL-record crowd – and that they had the “potential” to be part of a world-record crowd. As it turns out, the Guinness record will remain with the University of Michigan.