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Economic impact comes with Classic

by Zack Crawford / Detroit Red Wings
Just like Wings' fans did in Chicago in 2009, southeastern Michigan can expect thousands of Leafs' fans to travel from Canada to attend the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
DETROIT – With large and small-scale events surrounding the 2013 Winter Classic game, southeastern Michigan will be buzzing with activity as the new year is ushered in activity that – will equate to dollar signs for a lot of local businesses.

Much more than a single hockey game, the NHL’s Winter Classic featuring the Red Wings and Original Six rival Toronto will be especially unique because of its dichotomous nature. With college and minor-league games at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit and the main event at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, the 43 miles between the two stadiums will see a spike in business from the multitude of fans – both locals and out-of-towners – who will be spending money at and nearby the events.
Dave Beachnau, executive director of Detroit Sports Commission, weighed in on the effect that the Winter Classic would have on Detroit. Although expectations on turnout and impact are purely speculative at this point, Beachnau expressed that the event would be extremely lucrative for the region.

“Certainly it would have a tremendous impact,” he said. “Without knowing any of the stats or expected attendees and out-of-town versus in-town, it’d be difficult to really speculate on what the impact might be. But certainly that time of the year, which is traditionally a slower period for downtown hotels and the region from a visitors’ perspective, certainly it’d be a great shot in the arm.”

The relatively short distance between Ann Arbor and the Canadian fan base make it possible for day-trippers from across the border to attend the game and head home afterwards. But Beachnau expects a large number of Canadians to come across and stay in downtown Detroit or in the suburbs for the weekend.

“If there’s going to be ancillary events taking place in the city and the surrounding areas,” said Beachnau, “it will probably rival a Super Bowl weekend like we had here in Detroit.”

If past Classics are any indication, it’s unlikely that that the 2013 Winter Classic revenue will rival the $270-plus million that the 2006 Super Bowl at Detroit’s Ford Field brought in.
Although the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau didn’t conduct any studies on the financial impact of the 2012 Winter Classic, Larry Needle, the executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, thinks that the city probably garnered an amount somewhere between what Boston and Pittsburgh made on Winter Classics held in their cities.

In 2010, Boston netted $36 million and the following year, Pittsburgh brought in $22 million.

“I think you could fairly estimate a $30 million number just based on those kinds of benchmarks from the other cities,” Needle said.

The logistics of the event were several weeks in the making, in addition to the months of planning before that between the Phillies, the Flyers, the Rangers and the NHL. The game held at Citizens Bank Park had an attendance of 46,967. In addition to the main event, the alumni game, an AHL game, a game between the Boston and Philadelphia Police Departments, public skates and various other events all helped contribute to making the Classic much more than a single hockey game.

“I think the event itself was a home run. I think the reaction was fantastic,” Needle said. “I think it really kind of took center stage for that week. It definitely went beyond so many hockey fans being excited. I think it became more of a city-wide and a region-wide happening. It was really a great success by all accounts.”

With events divided between two cultural hubs next year, southeastern Michigan can look forward to a similar kind of region-wide interest, especially considering the added allure of breaking the record for attendance at a professional hockey game, as the game at Michigan Stadium, which is also called The Big House, is projected to do.

The Big House currently holds the world record for highest attendance at a hockey game at 104,173, which was certified by Guinness World Records for the game between Michigan and Michigan State on Dec. 11, 2010. The largest Winter Classic thus far was held in 2008, when the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. drawing 71,217 fans.

While the Winter Classic will generate some business that wouldn’t otherwise occur, Dr. Mark Rosentraub, professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, doesn’t believe that the economic effect of the event should be overblown. As a proportion of the region’s economy, Rosentraub said, the Winter Classic would represent only a modest increment.

“All of this is excellent news, but do not expect any dramatic changes in the region's economy,” Rosentraub said. “Since all increments are good, however, there is no bad news here.”

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