Red Wings/NHL provide updates on Winter Classic, Hockeytown Winter Festival

NHL COO John Collins (left) and Olympia Entertainment president and CEO Tom Wilson. (Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey)

By Michael Caples and Stefan Kubus –

DETROIT – The National Hockey League held a press conference prior to the Red Wings’ Nov. 19 home game with the Nashville Predators to discuss a variety of topics associated with the upcoming Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival.

Olympia Entertainment president and CEO Tom Wilson was joined by NHL COO John Collins, Chief Marketing Officer Brian Jennings, executive vice president of events Don Renzulli, executive vice president of sales and sponsorship Keith Wachtel and HBO’s coordinating producer for the 24/7 series Bentley Weiner to discuss the month-long hockey celebration.

The NHL expects to move into Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Dec. 2 to begin setting up for the 2014 NHL Winter Classic. Meanwhile, Renzulli said that construction of the ice at Comerica Park in Detroit would begin this Friday.

Some of the details discussed:

  • Wilson said the NHL Winter Classic is sold out, while there have been 120,000 tickets sold for the five major events at the Hockeytown Winter Festival (Alumni Showdown, AHL game, OHL games, and the Great Lakes Invitational).
  • The NHL is actively preparing for the massive crowd that will be in Ann Arbor for New Year’s Day. Extra parking will be available at Pioneer High School (5,000 spaces) and a bus system is set up to carry people from Briarwood Mall. It will be $50 to park near Michigan Stadium.
  • Both teams will have two hours of ice time at Michigan Stadium on Dec. 31.
  • HBO began background interviews in Detroit yesterday. The first episode of “24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic” will play on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 10 p.m. ET. All four episodes will play in consecutive Saturday nights at that same time, ending on Jan. 4.
  • Twenty-three brands are involved with sponsorships at the Winter Classic – the most the league has had for this event – which was made possible by the local and Canadian businesses getting involved.

“…We’re feeling pretty good about being able to deliver exactly what we talked about two years ago when this idea first came across, which is setting a record for best attended hockey event ever and also making a serious difference in downtown Detroit,” Wilson said. “When you think about the fact that over 200,000 tickets have already been sold for these events, 30-percent of the people coming to town will be Canadian. So, from an economic impact standpoint from how that’s going to impact our hotels, restaurants, everything else in this city, it’s going to make a huge difference for us.

“We’re proud to be hosting that. We want to thank Red Wing fans, who were supporting us to the best degree, the Toronto team, organization and fans for everything they’ve done to help make this a success and of course the NHL for giving us the opportunity to host this event… It’s going to be a two-week celebration of hockey that will culminate with the biggest game ever, so we’re proud to be involved.”

Collins said that he expects this Winter Classic to be the biggest to ever take place, and should hold the spot for a long time to come.

“It is great to finally see this come; it’s going to be great to play the game this year,” the NHL COO said. “The Winter Classic gets bigger every year. It sort of borrows different components and we learn new things as we go through each one of these. I think, in every respect, the Winter Classic in Hockeytown is going to be the biggest one ever and probably forever with 107,000 people.”

Collins said it was important to have a game of this size so that the NHL could provide as much access for the massive Original Six teams’ fanbases as possible.

“So in Hockeytown, to be able to have the kind of events that we’re going to have, to be able to allow so many people on a cumulative basis to touch and feel the event, to be able to really involve the Toronto region in the game is just going to make this thing special and I think it will stand for a long time as the biggest game we’ll ever do.”

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