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Classic growth a reflection of investment by NBC, NHL

by Dan Rosen /
The National Hockey League and NBC expect the growth of the League's marquee regular-season event to never be more evident than it will be both inside and outside Citizens Bank Park and in homes across the United States during New Year's weekend.

The Molson Canadian 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game on Dec. 31, as well as the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Rangers and Flyers on Jan. 2 are both sold out. For fans at home, the alumni game will be shown on Versus and the actual Winter Classic game will be on NBC. Both are scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.

A Winter Classic-record number of corporate sponsors will offer a variety of enticing opportunities to fans outside the ballpark at Spectator Plaza, which for the first time in the event's history will be open for three days.

Luukko: Flyers still flourishing

The Flyers are not an Original Six team like their Winter Classic opponent, the Rangers. However, according to Peter Luukko, the president and COO of Comcast Spectator, which is the parent company of the team, the expansion tag that will forever be attached to the Flyers hasn't stopped fans in Philadelphia from believing their team is original in its own way.

"I was coming home one night, listening to the radio, a guy calls in and says, 'All these teams are changing their logos and uniforms, but I love Ed Snider and the Flyers because they've never changed anything," Luukko said.

Luukko continued to rehash the story, saying the caller went on to say, 'That logo, with the P and the flying wing, it's beautiful but it's simple. At the end of the day it's all about integrity and the Flyers have to keep their integrity because they're one of the Original 8.'

"It was a great comment and it was funny, but the consistency of our play and our ownership has given us that reputation," Luukko said.

That reputation is only getting stronger with the NHL's decision to bring the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic to Philadelphia.

Luukko said roughly 150,000 fans will fill Citizens Bank Park in the days between the alumni game Dec. 31, the Winter Classic game Jan. 2, and an AHL game between the Adirondack Phantoms and Hershey Bears on Jan. 6.

When you marry those three games with all the ancillary events created around the Winter Classic, Luukko expects the interest in hockey around Philadelphia to grow in 2012.

"As an overall company (Comcast Spectacor) it's great for us, but most of all it's great for fans and the development of hockey in our marketplace," he said. "Kids are playing more now. We have over 60 rinks in the marketplace. When you have major events like this you see a spike in kids playing and learning a new sport."

-- Dan Rosen
And, for the first time in Winter Classic history, NBC will air a post-game show by using the rebranded NBC Sports Network, which makes its debut on Jan. 2. NHL Network will also have an extended post-game show leading into live coverage of the 2012 World Junior Championship quarterfinals.

"I can't believe how far this game has come in five years and it's evident by the ticket demand and the advertiser demand," said Jon Miller, NBC Sports' President of Programming. "We know we hit upon a winner. We're lucky we have a partner in the NHL that can help us make it as big as we have."

NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins praised NBC and Miller for helping to propel the Winter Classic into an event that gives the League a platform to grow the sport and the business of hockey.

Collins identified the rating for last year's game in Pittsburgh, which was the best for a NHL regular-season game in 36 years, as evidence that people are watching. He pointed to this year's alumni game, which will feature Bobby Clarke and some of the Broad Street Bullies, two-thirds of the Legion of Doom, and several members of the Rangers' 1994 Cup-winning team, and said the buzz is matching that of the real Winter Classic game.

"It gets bigger and bigger (every year) and allows us to stretch the event over a number of days as opposed to just focusing on the Winter Classic game," Collins said. "And, it helps light up the two cities."

Collins also said a key demographic that showcases the sheer size of the event is League's corporate sponsorship base. Bridgestone, Molson Canadian, Honda, Geico, Verizon, McDonald's, Reebok and Restore Hockey will all be in place at Spectator Plaza with various games and prize opportunities.

"It's become a celebration of hockey and in addition to a lot of the other metrics we talk about, it has been the activation of our sponsors," Collins said. "The way the advertising community has really been attracted to the NHL as a result of this game are now finding many more ways to spend money.

"It has allowed a lot of blue-chip advertisers to figure out how they can activate and spend money against the NHL and it's very attractive event."

Miller said that NBC has also done its part in promotion with the use of Football Night in America and Sunday Night Football.

"Now people are used to seeing it," he said of the commercials promoting the game's broadcast.

Collins and Miller both said they believe there are ways for the NHL and NBC to make the event bigger in years to come by taking the excitement in the local marketplace onto a more national level.

"For now, the trick has been how do we make this game as big and as relevant as possible, so you're looking at big TV markets, great franchises, great rivalries, venues that we can get into that really support the game, weather patterns for the last 30 years," Collins said. "I will say, though, looking forward, the commissioner has heard from probably every owner and club president in the League and he's heard from a number of markets that don't have teams that are interested in the game.

"There is a big demand for this game."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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