DETROIT – The thousands that braved the harsh conditions – even the millions who watched on TV – know how spectacular the afternoon was when the NHL’s Winter Classic came to The Big House in Ann Arbor.
The mammoth event – which was held on a frosty picturesque day in snow-globe conditions – gained sports industry accolades Wednesday when it was named the 2014 sports event of the year by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.
The sold out Winter Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium beat out such high-profile events as Super Bowl XLVIII, the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight, the Breeder’s Cup, and the Phoenix Open.
The annual Sports Business Awards has paid tribute to excellence and outstanding achievement in professional and collegiate athletics since 2008. This year’s awards recognized industry success for the 12-month period from March 1, 2013 through the end of February 2014.
Played during a steady snowfall and in front of a massive crowd usually reserved for college football season, the New Year’s Day game was an instant classic on several fronts, despite the Wings’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Leafs.
“The University of Michigan’s ‘Big House’ came alive for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic as an all-time hockey record crowd of 105,491 fans packed the stadium, solidifying the NHL’s ownership of New Year’s Day,” wrote SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily. “The event attracted 8.2 million viewers in the United States and Canada, a record for a regular-season matchup, became a major conversation element on social media, posted gains on merchandise sales and featured strong activation among sponsors.”
January’s Winter Classic on the campus of the University of Michigan shattered the previous hockey attendance record and tied a TV ratings record.
The event was one of the most watched Winter Classic games ever – tying NBC’s 2009 Winter Classic broadcast from Wrigley Field with a 2.9 rating – for the most watched regular-season games in ratings history in the U.S. Ironically, it also means the Red Wings were featured in the two most watched outdoor games.
“What makes the NHL Winter Classic so special is the way our fans and our players have embraced it,” said John Collins, the league’s chief operating officer, who accepted the award Wednesday at a ceremony held at the New York Marriott Marquis in Manhattan.
Collins concluded by saying: “Our great partners at Bridgestone and NBC also play a vital role and we're grateful to the SportsBusiness Journal for once again recognizing the Winter Classic as an event that does what sports is supposed to do: Bring people together to create unforgettable memories for generations of fans.”
Past events of the year were the United States Grand Prix (2013); Humana Challenge (2012); New York Marathon (2011); Super Bowl XLIV (2010); and 2008 NHL Winter Classic (2009).
The sports publication also named the National Hockey League the sports league of the year and commissioner Gary Bettman was selected as sports executive of the year, beating out Randy Freer (Fox Networks Group); Don Garber (MLS); Kevin Plank (Under Armour); and Vivek Ranadive (Sacramento Kings).