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Instant Classic

Instant Classic

By Ian Thomas, Staff Writer

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Fans packed Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 for the inaugural edition of the Winter Classic.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


If you ask NHL players where they first played the game of hockey, the answer you’d most likely get is on a frozen pond, lake or backyard rink.

Despite that, for many years the league had emerged from the indoors only a couple of times, for a preseason game in 1991 in Las Vegas and a regular-season game, the Heritage Classic, in Edmonton in 2003.

The launch of the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008, was a celebration of those outdoor roots, but it also reflected a new, broader vision for the league’s commercial business. By the end of the 2016-17 season, the NHL will have played 22 outdoor games, attended by roughly 1.2 million fans.

SBJ’s Ian Thomas spoke with those that helped launch the Winter Classic — identified by their job titles during the lead-up to the first Winter Classic, unless otherwise noted — about what they remember from that day, and what the future holds for the event and the NHL’s outdoor game platform.

THE IDEA:

JON MILLER, Executive VP, NBC Sports: We acquired the NHL rights for the 2005-06 season in ’04. At that time, NBC had been heavily involved in the college football bowl business — at one time, NBC had the Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, and we were a very heavy bowl player on New Year’s Day. When the Bowl Championship Series started, we moved away from that as we didn’t have a big investment in college football besides Notre Dame. … We were looking for something that filled that window on New Year’s Day and were thinking about the NHL since we just acquired the rights. In 2004, when the [Boston] Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the [New York] Yankees in the ALCS, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool and fun to do something in 2006 to have the [Boston] Bruins come down to play the [New York] Rangers for New Year’s Day. You could have so much fun with it. But unfortunately the 2005 season got scrapped because of the lockout. I had taken the idea to my boss, Dick Ebersol, who said see if the NHL has interest because we could use something. I took it to [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman and his people at the time, and they thought it was an intriguing idea, but were very reluctant, because they didn’t have a special events group, didn’t have any way to really stage the game, and they really didn’t think that hockey on New Year’s Day would work.

BILL DALY, Deputy Commissioner, NHL: That first outdoor game in 2003 was really the brainchild of the Edmonton Oilers organization, and they did a spectacular job. The league supported their efforts, provided the event staff, and [NHL facility operations manager] Dan Craig and his group played a huge role in terms of building out an outdoor ice rink in a stadium, but again it was their vision. It was very successful, but it had some challenges. The weather and temperature in particular — it was frigid, almost to the point where it was too cold for the ice so there was a concern even in that game that we wouldn’t play because of the ice chipping. From ’03 until that first game in Buffalo, the concept of doing an outdoor game was a real concept we talked about. What we didn’t know and what we didn’t have a good solution for was whether we make this a club-run event or whether it was a league event. And the thought process for making it a league event was that you could make it bigger and you could make it a platform event that benefited all 30 clubs because of the level of profile we could generate for it.

MILLER: I tried to explain that, in our mind, college football had ceded the day because of the way that the BCS worked, and the only games that were left on the day were the Rose Bowl, that didn’t start until 5 p.m., and in prime time. So the afternoon was a lot of low- and midlevel bowls that didn’t pose much of a threat. So, while they liked it, they had a lot of different concerns largely on the staging ability and the appetite of people to go to a hockey game on New Year’s Day after a night of partying. My feeling was if it was marketed and promoted in the right way, we could get behind it and do something with it. Even into late 2006, I was continuing to pitch it. Gary finally said well, look, the lockout had been settled, there was a new marketing and business focus and they were bringing on John Collins to run it, so if they could find teams and a place to do it, they’re interested.

JOHN COLLINS, Senior VP of Business and Media, NHL: The biggest business thing that Gary and I had talked about [when Collins joined the league from the NFL in 2006] was the work around the NFL Properties and Trust, and structurally how that allowed the clubs to take back more control over the club marks. The NFL then focused more on the development of their brand, which was the shield, but which then led to the establishment of a number of tentpole events — Kickoff, Thanksgiving, Playoffs as a full period, and the Super Bowl, which always was the Super Bowl but that gave an opportunity to take it even higher — and how that basically opened up two pipes for revenue, both national and local. After the second lockout, it was now about what do you do to take [the NHL] to the next level?

Right before I took the job [at the NHL], I was meeting with Gary, and in a conference room [at the NHL Headquarters] were the NBC guys. They were like, what are you doing here? The next day, Jon called me and said he had an idea for me. Coming from the NFL, where you know how powerful network partners are when it comes to growing the business and driving excitement, when your network partner wants to do something, usually you have listen up.

Workers install the rink boards during the conversion of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


GARY BETTMAN, Commissioner, NHL: John came in and said he had been talking to Jon Miller at NBC, and to this day, they debate which of the two of them had the idea, but we’ll credit both of them. He said, “Football bowls have abandoned Jan. 1, and they have an open window. What about if we play an outdoor game?” I said are you serious, and he said yeah. My first question was where?

COLLINS: The Edmonton Oilers had done it, and by accounts from people who had the picture hanging on their wall it was pretty cool. But it hadn’t been done again for five years, which suggested that there were some real threshold issues. A lot of it had to do with could you afford to do it. It’s one thing to have an idea and call it marketing and lose a lot of money. I’d worked for NFL owners for 15 years; we have to drive a P&L. One, operationally how could it be done to a point that it was like an NFL regular-season game. Two, where do you hold it? What’s the right market and venue?

MILLER: Our first choice was what we thought in the first place — go up to the Bronx to Yankee Stadium to do the original concept with the Rangers and Bruins. The Bruins immediately said yes, they were open to it and embraced it, thought it would be a cool idea. The Rangers were a little bit nervous and very concerned about their whole ability to play a game outside of MSG and sacrificing a home date there. We went to see the Yankees and they kind of said no — “Yankee Stadium is meant for baseball, this is the House That Ruth Built, and we’re really not inclined to put hockey here on New Year’s Day, we don’t think it’s the right fit for us.”

We began to canvass other clubs, and I can distinctly remember in the spring of 2007 in a meeting with the NHL, they said, look, we’ve got one team that raised their hands to host an outdoor game on New Year’s Day and that’s the Buffalo Sabres, and I instantly said sold. They kind of looked at me like, really?

LARRY QUINN, CEO and President, Buffalo Sabres: I got a call from Gary and he told me they were interested in doing this concept, would we be interested? I answered pretty quickly yes — although I had the impression that not a lot of teams were willing to take that risk on. But back then, [Sabres owner] Tom Golisano and I were very interested in growing the game, and hopefully the league getting a big television contact. Smaller-market teams were operating at such a disadvantage and relied on revenue sharing as we just couldn’t compete with the revenues that other teams had. Our view was that the future of the league relied on a very robust national TV contract, and we were willing to do a lot of different things to help elevate that. All we wanted is what we’d normally get in a sellout.

COLLINS: They met the criteria. They were willing to do it, so that was the first thing. It’s Jan. 1, so not every NFL stadium would be available to us, in addition to a long checklist of things that had to be available. And you wanted to go to a market where people would embrace it, and that’s the hockey community that is in Buffalo.

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MILLER: I was excited about Buffalo. It’s a great sports market, and an incredible hockey market. They always tend to be among the highest local-rated teams in any market, their fans are not afraid of the elements, and they would understand the magic of doing something like this. Getting the Penguins at the same time Sidney Crosby was a highly touted rookie was a big deal, too.

DAVID MOREHOUSE, CEO and President, Pittsburgh Penguins: We had just finished a branding research project and were looking for marketing opportunities and ways to differentiate ourselves not only from the other sports teams in Pittsburgh, but what our brand could be in the future. John Collins had gone through the idea with me previously, and asked if we’d think about it conceptually. When he called back specifically about going to Buffalo, I said yes before I talked to our ticketing guys or anyone else.

DON RENZULLI, Senior Vice President of Events, NHL: I had left the NFL and was in Connecticut at home. I got a call from John’s assistant that he wanted to see me. So, I say what, next week? She said no, tomorrow. So I make my way in and he says I want to do an outdoor game. I said, what, are you crazy? So he says, no, there’s photos around people’s offices here, they did this game and it was in a football stadium and it was big — I want to do that. I said all right, so for the next three months or so, I had come in and I was just starting to look at what gate revenue would be and scale out what the stadium would look like. I wasn’t on full time; I was just a consultant, and John was going back and forth talking to the commissioner about how we could do this.

COLLINS: I had a close relationship with Russ Brandon, who was the president of the Buffalo Bills, and he saw it right away and wanted to host it. We wanted to be in an NFL stadium because we knew — and I’ve used this catchphrase when I pitched it to Gary — we’ve got a lot of people who know how to put on a hockey game, but we need somebody who knows how to put on a Super Bowl. And that was the rationale to bring Don [Renzulli] in. So we always wanted to be in an NFL stadium because of the grandeur, the spectacle.

QUINN: We looked at the ballpark downtown [Dunn Tire Park, now Coca-Cola Field], we considered building a temporary rink near Niagara Falls, but everything kept coming back to the stadium.

MIKE GILBERT, VP of Administration, Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres had a home game in ’07 [in March], and the commissioner was here. He and Larry were in a suite together. Larry called me in the press box and said, Hey, can you get the Bills’ schedule for next year and bring it to me?

DALY: In 2003, there was a different regime at the players’ association. That was Bob Goodenow’s era, and we were very much in a difficult phase of our labor relationship. That’s probably a generous way to put it. While they allowed us to do the outdoor game in Edmonton, they put a whole bunch of parameters around it that would have made it impossible to do the game in Buffalo. At the time, they didn’t want any precipitation — they thought having snow fall would be distracting to the players and potentially dangerous. They thought rain was distracting and potentially dangerous and would impact the ice quality too much. Paul Kelly, who was the head of the players’ association at the time — I give him a lot of credit in having a much bigger-picture, longer-term vision of what this event could mean for the league and in the new system we had, what that could mean for the players. He was very cooperative in making sure we could pull off the game.

DAN CRAIG, Facility Operations Manager, NHL: When it was brought to me, I don’t think it was a question of if we could do it. It was what do we need to do it.

BRIAN JENNINGS, Executive VP of Marketing, NHL: I can still remember sitting in conference room 2 — it was John, Don, myself and one of our lawyers sitting there talking about it. When Don was first hired, he reported to me, so we were discussing the progress and the feeling that at this point it was a great idea and we should do it, but it was already late into 2007 and we’re getting short on time, so a decision should be made. John said stay here and I’ll come back. I was told he went down to Gary’s office, and I was fully expecting him to come back and say “OK, we’re going to do this, but let’s do it the following year.” He said, “We’re green-lit, we’re good.” I think my eyes opened a little wider then.

BETTMAN: Without knowing what the weather would be like that day in Buffalo — but I figured lake effect snow, the cold — I said “OK, let’s try it. Let’s take the game back to its roots.”

THE BUILDUP:

COLLINS: We had a couple of boxes we needed to check. We had to find a sponsor. Gary and I had a few meetings with various sponsors, and not everyone thought this was the greatest idea they’ve ever heard. But Dave Burwick, who at the time was president of Pepsi Canada … Dave was the CMO of Pepsi in the U.S. when I was running sales and marketing for the NFL, and he and I negotiated the deal to flip Pepsi in Coke’s position in the NFL. So, I called Dave, and it was late summer before the game, and he said, listen, I’d love to see you, but I’m here by myself with my two boys, my wife is away, and I have to get them off to camp, so you’re welcome to come to my house and have breakfast with my kids but that’s the only way I can see you. So, I come ripping up to his house with Tim Hortons doughnuts and I share the whole story with him. So now Dave is living in Toronto, been there for a few years, is a big idea guy, he appreciates the power of hockey and he loved the idea. He found money with Amp, which was a new product they were launching, so we checked that box and had our title sponsor.

KEITH WACHTEL, Senior VP of Corporate Sales and Marketing, NHL: We just took the framework of how clubs and everyone sells their traditional positions — dasherboards, in-ice. The whole concept was to get hockey fans to have a day that they could celebrate the sport beyond their favorite team. The great line is that you never cancel your Super Bowl party because of the two teams that are playing, so the concept of a big event on a day where people can celebrate the sport was what this could be, is how we were selling it.

COLLINS: The other piece was how do we sell 80,000 seats for a hockey game in Buffalo?

RENZULLI: I must have probably done 20 different ticketing models, and we would look at it and say maybe it’s too high, maybe it’s too low. We talked to the Sabres as they knew the market better than us, looked at the Bills and where were they for AFC Championship games, and how we could model that out.

QUINN: I was always worried about the sales. I thought with the proximity to Toronto that we’d get that Canadian fan draw.

COLLINS: We were reaching out to the Toronto Blue Jays and asked if we could [target] some of their season-ticket holders. Really, we were reaching out to anyone we thought would get in their car on New Year’s Day and drive to Ralph Wilson Stadium and see this hockey game.

JENNINGS: Based on the market, we felt really strongly that we’d be able to sell 50,000 seats, but that our plan had to be really aggressive to sell the remaining 22,000. We had designed a local marketing plan to go out once tickets were on sale for the greater Toronto area, Syracuse, Rochester, down to Erie and Pittsburgh. That’s a long trip but we didn’t know how many tickets we’d have left.

GILBERT: The tickets were going on sale at 10 a.m. I think there was more than 40,000 seats available after sales to season-ticket holders and holds for the league, partners and others. At 10:20 a.m., John Sinclair, who oversees tickets [for the Sabres], called me and said we have a problem with our computers, I think they’ve crashed. So I come down, and he says something must be wrong because it says there are no tickets left. We double checked it, and no, they sold out in about 20 minutes.

QUINN: There was an NHL board of governors meeting that same morning, so I was on the plane right before they went on sale. When I landed, I expected to get a message that we sold 10,000 or so seats, and with that projection it’d take us a month or so to sell out, which would have been great. I almost fell over when I read what happened.

JENNINGS: I remember flipping an email to the commissioner about the news on my phone, and then just throwing it down on the bed I was so giddy. It buzzes back, and Gary’s tongue-in-cheek remark is “Maybe we should be playing in bigger stadiums.”

THE GAME:

RENZULLI: The Sunday a week and a half out, the Bills played the [New York] Giants. We were supposed to start the build once the game ended. I landed [and] it was like 50 degrees and sunny, and I thought, great. By the third quarter it was snowing like hell.

CRAIG: We built in 18 hours of buffer time when we laid out the production schedule, and we lost 12-plus hours right there [because of the snow]. I hadn’t even met half the crew three hours before we started work. There wasn’t a whole lot of sleep that week for sure.

COLLINS: I remember the day before when Dan was struggling with the ice. He grabbed me and marched me out there, like, I’m sure he thought: Who is this football guy? And he took a pen and he dropped it and it went right through the ice, and he said, “Don’t ever do this to me again.” I was like, oh my God! He was like, we’ll fix it, but just so you know what I’m dealing with. And Dan, I don’t think he had slept in 48 hours at that point.

CRAIG: In my house I have some fabulous pictures of that game. I always look at them and remember about what not to do again.

COLLINS: There were contingency plans, including just calling it a day and going back in the arena and just playing a regular-season game, because we didn’t know what was going to happen. But I’d been in the NFL, I knew what Ralph Wilson could be, I knew when Russ said he was here to help us, if Buffalo had 8 inches of snow, Russ was in and he had the knowledge, expertise and resources to help us, because we didn’t have that. It was kind of like having your boys around you in the huddle, and while we were running the play for the first time, it felt familiar to a lot of us.

BETTMAN: Driving to the stadium that day, it was a mixture of rain and snow. We got to the stadium and it started to snow, and I looked around when I was on the field, and to be on the field on a football stadium in front of 72,000 people with an ice rink there, it was like — the hair stood up on the back of my neck in a good way. Like, whoa, this is just awesome!

SAM FLOOD, Executive Producer, NBC Sports and NBCSN: I had no fear about the game, I knew it would be special the moment we showed up. This event was able to engage fans at a different level, in a way that many of them remember learning and loving the game.

QUINN: When you go to a Bills game, you see people throwing a football in the parking lot, but here they were playing hockey.

MILLER: We left for the stadium at 10 a.m. It was myself, Sam, Bob Costas and a few others. I remember pulling into the stadium, and it reminded me of the 1991 AFC Championship Game. If you didn’t see what kind of jerseys people had on, you would have thought it was an NFL playoff game.

COLLINS: It was that same crowd, the same passion, same energy — that’s what Buffalo gave the game. It gave hockey fans the ability to tailgate like football fans.

TICKETS OVER THE YEARS


JENNINGS: And when the snow started to come down, it was like magic pixie dust.

JOHN MCDONOUGH, President, Chicago Blackhawks: I remember watching that game on TV, and having a conversation with [Blackhawks EVP of business operations] Jay Blunk not long after. I told him, we have to get one of these events for Chicago. There is just a magical element to it.

WACHTEL: I was on my honeymoon, so we were in Thailand which is 12 hours ahead. So I’m sitting there at midnight refreshing online what is going on, seeing that it might be raining, now it says it’s snowing.

DALY: I think it was 33 degrees that day, and while we had that snowglobe effect, there was just as many raindrops as there were snowflakes, so the ice wasn’t exactly ideal. If minor things had been different, the weather maybe two or three degrees warmer than it was, maybe the Winter Classic goes away.

MILLER: There were challenges. The ice wasn’t that great, there were several stoppages. But the pregame ceremony was spectacular, the fans loved it and it looked great. I remember people talking about this is how hockey should be — I realized we had something special. You would have liked to have the home team win, but to have Sidney Crosby score the winning goal in the shooutout, it’s hard to beat that.

QUINN: I was a little mad at Dan Craig because he didn’t let us clean the ice before the shootout, and if you look at that goal by Sidney it was a bit of a knuckleball.

COLLINS: The moment that I remember was the next day, and [Richard] Sandomir wrote this great New York Times article. I always really respected what he wrote. Obviously, he didn’t write about us all that much, but he was very knowledgeable, tough, not easily swayed by commercialism or any of that. And the fact that he so bought into it, I couldn’t have written it any better. That’s what I wanted people to feel coming out of it, and that’s what I hoped people would feel personally, and he wrote it. And when I read it, I was like, f--- yeah, we nailed it.

THE LEGACY:

BETTMAN: It was clear to me that this game absolutely captures the imagination and that people would love going to them, and they do. Watching it on TV is not like being there; being there is a big deal when you’re in a place and people are going to this game. Just watching the players’ reaction when they go out for the first skate, it’s almost a breathtaking emotional experience.

WACHTEL: It was one of the defining moments in our business, and showed marketers that we were thinking differently, and the whole notion was that everything that we do has to lift all the businesses — the league business, the club business, the rights-holder business, the partner business. We didn’t have anything like this, and while none of the other sports league did either, they didn’t need it as much as we did. For us to create a commercial business and marketplace for the sport, we needed more than just what everyone else had. A few degrees differently and that might have been it, and I do believe our business would be significantly different.

PHIL PACSI, VP of Sports and Events Marketing, Bridgestone Americas: We weren’t a league partner at that point, but I watched the game on TV. You saw the passion that came out of that game from the fans, but you also saw a league that shared that and saw opportunity for itself ahead. We signed on as the title sponsor for the 2009 game at Wrigley and have been for every one since.

COLLINS: The conversation before launching it was that the league was a $2.2 billion business with less than 10 percent coming from national sources. For the NFL, more than 60 percent was coming from national revenue streams, which allowed for competitive balance. When I got to the NHL, I launched a brand study to really understand the brand and how it was valued among hockey and sports fans, and really a whole analysis of the business so that we could present this plan about how to build national scale.

The Winter Classic was one of the elements of that plan. It wasn’t the only element, but it certainly was the most visible representation of that plan, and I think it also became a bit of a rallying point for everyone who was involved with the league at any level, because it showed that hockey, which had some tough times with the work stoppages, could transcend its current state. It created a lot of confidence and momentum that allowed us to go on this tear that now the NHL is a $4 billion business closing in on more than a billion in national revenues.

DALY: The main drivers on the revenue side are the elevation of the brand as opposed to the event itself. I’m not saying the event is not profitable — although that profitability changes based on the dynamics of the venue you’re playing in, the teams that are playing, all of that — but it had to be part of a broader engine that is elevating the game, which is also elevating your potential to sell sponsorships, to sell tickets, to sell national TV rights. It’s much more a material factor benefiting those than to the bottom line from the event itself.

WACHTEL: Our [media rights] deal before then with NBC was a rev-share deal. Now look at this great relationship we have. To me, it was a defining moment.

MOREHOUSE: It was a launching point where more people got to see Crosby, Malkin and the exciting brand of hockey that we were playing. If you’re trying to market and sell something, you can’t ask for a better kind of impression.

QUINN: It was great for Buffalo. If you’re from here, you’re aware of the national perspective of the city. This gave us a chance to show the country we can do something great, and be ahead of the wave.

GILBERT: If we didn’t play in that Winter Classic, three years later we don’t get the World Junior Championships, or frankly any other big event that has come here since. That outdoor game put Buffalo on the map as being a true hockey place.

STEVE MAYER, Current Chief Content Officer, NHL: Nearly every team at one point since I’ve arrived has asked, inquired or pitched a game, so it’s something everyone wants. My stance is as we move forward and look at the next three years of the schedule, what will make our fans go, wow, that’s super cool, or what can we do when we get to a certain location, because of where we are at, to make it feel even bigger and unique. With time, with the equipment getting better, and after 22 of these, this team knows every secret and there’s nothing they can’t handle, and that’s why I’m confident we could go anywhere.

The second installment of the Winter Classic moved to Chicago’s iconic Wrigley Field.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


CRAIG: There are no limitations on where we could bring it. We just need a footprint that we can build on.

DALY: A lot of clubs feel like they’re disadvantaged by the marketplace they’re in for hosting this, but I think we’ve come a long way in even dispelling some of those concerns by having a game in Los Angeles or San Francisco. We’ve shown that we can make this game a versatile event and something we can stage in a lot of locations. I wouldn’t say it’s a universal event yet, but it’s certainly a much more versatile and multipurpose event than when we started it.

RENZULLI: You just can’t build it and they will come, like in the movies. You have to build it and make sure that it’s accessible. But you could build it and do something very small in very cool places and that could be iconic TV, and maybe you wouldn’t even get 20,000 fans, but there is opportunity to do that. I think that’s the next big iteration of the big event. Maybe there is a point where you feel you’ve kind of spread this thing out as far as you can go, but then do you consolidate and say we’re going back to the Winter Classic and a Heritage Classic and maybe one big one? If you can find some cool place, you find the sponsorship to get it done, it’d be really cool.

MILLER: I’d love to go back to Buffalo. I’d love to go back to Wrigley or Fenway. I think this event has a long future ahead of it, and hopefully it’ll be around long after I’m not.

BETTMAN: These games are so desirable that our clubs want them, the cities we play in want them, so we need to make sure we’re taking care of the fans within those markets before we extend to other places. Going to iconic venues is intriguing and we’ve looked at some and we’ll ultimately get to some eventually, but we have team markets with iconic venues and they want these games too. Multiple times over.

COLLINS: You want to create that emotional connection between the game and fans that hopefully lives forever. We don’t play the game so it’s not like we can make a play. All we can do is create a great stage, then let players play, to give something to the fans that allows them to treat it as special.

The Great Outdoors

Through 21 outdoor games, total attendance is 1,140,999, for an average of 54,333 per game, including an NHL record 105,491 at the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

Date Event Venue (location) Attendance Matchup Temp.
Nov. 22, 2003 Heritage Classic Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton) 57,167 Montreal vs. Edmonton 0°F/-18°C
Jan. 1, 2008 Winter Classic Ralph Wilson Stadium (Buffalo) 71,217 Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo 33°F/1°C
Jan. 1, 2009 Winter Classic Wrigley Field (Chicago) 40,818 Detroit vs. Chicago 32°F/0°C
Jan. 1, 2010 Winter Classic Fenway Park (Boston) 38,112 Philadelphia vs. Boston 35°F/2°C
Jan. 1, 2011 Winter Classic Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) 68,111 Washington vs. Pittsburgh 50°F/10°C
Feb. 20, 2011 Heritage Classic McMahon Stadium (Calgary) 41,022 Montreal vs. Calgary 18°F/-8°C
Jan. 2, 2012 Winter Classic Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia) 46,967 New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia 41°F/5°C
Jan. 1, 2014 Winter Classic Michigan Stadium (Ann Arbor, Mich.) 105,491 Toronto vs. Detroit 13°F/-11°C
Jan. 25, 2014 Stadium Series Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles) 54,099 Anaheim vs. Los Angeles 62°F/17°C
Jan. 26, 2014 Stadium Series Yankee Stadium (New York) 50,105 New York Rangers vs. New Jersey 25°F/-4°C
Jan. 29, 2014 Stadium Series Yankee Stadium (New York) 50,027 New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders 22°F/-6°C
March 1, 2014 Stadium Series Soldier Field (Chicago) 62,921 Pittsburgh vs. Chicago 17°F/-8°C
March 2, 2014 Heritage Classic BC Place (Vancouver) 54,194 Ottawa vs. Vancouver 37°F/3°C
Jan. 1, 2015 Winter Classic Nationals Park (Washington, D.C.) 42,832 Chicago vs. Washington 43°F/6°C
Feb. 21, 2015 Stadium Series Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara) 70,205 Los Angeles vs. San Jose 57°F/14°C
Jan. 1, 2016 Winter Classic Gillette Stadium (Foxborough) 67,246 Montreal vs. Boston 41°F/5°C
Feb. 21, 2016 Stadium Series TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis) 50,426 Chicago vs. Minnesota 35°F/2°C
Feb. 27, 2016 Stadium Series Coors Field (Denver) 50,095 Detroit vs. Colorado 65°F/18°C
Oct. 23, 2016 Heritage Classic Investors Group Field (Winnipeg) 33,240 Edmonton vs. Winnipeg 50°F/10°C
Jan. 1, 2017 Centennial Classic BMO Field (Toronto) 40,148 Detroit vs. Toronto 37°F/3°C
Jan. 2, 2017 Winter Classic Busch Stadium (St. Louis) 46,556 Chicago vs. St. Louis 46°F/8°C
Feb. 25, 2017 Stadium Series Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) TBD Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh TBD

Notes: Scotiabank signed on as title sponsor of the first Centennial Classic in November 2016. Bridgestone became title sponsor of the Winter Classic starting with the 2009 game. There was no sponsor for the inaugural game, played in 2008. Tim Hortons has been title sponsor of the Heritage Classic since its inception in 2011. Coors Light has been title sponsor of the Stadium Series since its inception in 2014.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research


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