Michigan Stadium could be empty on New Year’s Day.
The NHL announced today that because of an ongoing lockout, it had canceled all games through Nov. 3, bringing the number of regular-season games lost to 326. Yet while the NHL did not announce any change in the status of two of its mid-season events, ESPN and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported today that sources have indicated the NHL will cancel the 2013 Winter Classic and the NHL All-Star Game next week, as early as Monday. USA Today, however, reported on Friday that both events were still scheduled, despite the NHL’s ongoing labor conflict.
Michigan officials said Friday via email that there was "nothing new to report" in regards to a potential cancellation of an outdoor hockey game that has become one of the NHL’s marquee mid-season events.
The NHL announced in February that Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor would host the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL’s annual outdoor game on Jan. 1, 2013. Michigan’s contract with the NHL for the Winter Classic, obtained by the Blade through a Freedom of Information Act request, does not specify a date in regards to announcing the cancellation of the Winter Classic, yet the contract states that the NHL has the right to cancel the Winter Classic up to the day of the event.
If the Winter Classic is cancelled on or before Nov. 2, Michigan will retain an initial payment of $100,000 (part of a $3 million rental fee); if it is canceled Nov. 3 or later, Michigan will retain the $100,000 payment and will be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket costs associated with the event.
Multiple sources have told the Blade that the NHL’s drop-dead date for notifying Michigan of the cancellation of the Winter Classic is Nov. 18. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters two weeks ago in Toronto that if a labor agreement is not reached, by a certain date - though he did not specify a date - the NHL will not commit finances to the Winter Classic.
Worth noting: in looking through the contract, there's no mention of Michigan Stadium being guaranteed the 2014 Winter Classic in event of a cancellation.
Also worth noting: NHL officials were in attendance during a September home football game at Michigan Stadium as part of logistical preparation for the Winter Classic, but have not been in attendance at either of Michigan's home games this month in Ann Arbor.
If this was a "perfect" world and the NHL season was taking place, the NHL would rent out Michigan Stadium from Dec. 1 to Jan. 9 and begin preparations for the Winter Classic - a process that isn't just about building a rink on top of a football field and inside of a facility that seats more than 100,000. It's about turning a football facility into a near-optimal NHL facility on a game day - taking into account concessions, parking, media access for both print/online and television (I covered the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston and there were NBC and CBC personnel EVERYWHERE), as well as scheduling nearly six weeks of events in and around the Winter Classic, including the Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament at Comerica Park in Detroit - an event that has ties to the NHL. Plenty hinges upon whether or not this is going to happen - and the immediate future doesn't look promising for outdoor hockey on Jan. 1 in Ann Arbor.