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NHL rents Big House for $3 million to host Winter Classic

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By Paige Pearcy, Daily News Editor
and Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 8, 2012

In the midst of college football’s bowl season and winter break, a professional hockey game at the Big House will bring life to the University's campus on Jan. 1, 2013.

During a rare Wednesday morning meeting, the University’s Board of Regents met in a special session to discuss and approve the National Hockey League’s lease of Michigan Stadium for its Winter Classic — the league’s annual outdoor hockey game.

The NHL will pay the University $3 million to rent the Big House and will use the stadium from Dec. 1, 2012 to mid-January, according to a communication to the regents from Athletic Director Dave Brandon and Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. The Winter Classic game will take place on Jan. 1, 2013 and has an alternate date of Jan. 2, 2013.

During the meeting, Brandon said the NHL is expected to donate a “significant” amount to student scholarships at the University from its charitable foundation.

According to Brandon, the NHL approached the University last November, and since then, discussions about the event have been underway. Brandon said in an interview after the meeting that he expects the contract to be finalized soon.

Brandon emphasized that the event is not University sponsored, which means no student tickets will be made available.

“We’re not in the business of marketing this event, we’re not in charge of the sponsors. This is all going to be the NHL,” Brandon said. “The NHL is really taking over the stadium for that day, and they’re marketing the spaces in whatever manner they feel appropriate.”

The University will use one of its 12 available one-day-only liquor licenses on the event. Beer typically isn't sold at Michigan Stadium during Michigan football games. According to the communication, the usual concessionaire for football games, Sodexo, Inc., is expected to provide concessions and staff at the game.

This will be the second time in the last three years for the Big House to hold a hockey game. Michigan and Michigan State played in the Big Chill at the Big House in 2010, breaking the world record for attendance to a hockey game. Brandon said the NHL is “hell-bent” on breaking the record set during the Big Chill of 104,173 attendees.

Brandon said he expects the event to draw in excess of $14 million in economic activity to Ann Arbor. Newman added that the economic boost is one of the key reasons the regents approved the lease.

“One of the factors that we discussed when considering this was the economic value to the city of Ann Arbor and the surrounding community and the goodness this would do for restaurants and hotels and shops and other activity in the area,” Newman said. “I think that at a time of year where it’s otherwise quiet, doing something like this makes a lot of sense.”

Speaking at the start of the meeting, University President Mary Sue Coleman said it was important to discuss the lease with the board before making made a final decision.

“Since this is an unusual and highly visible use of the facility, we thought it prudent for the board to discuss the proposed arrangement and … vote on authorization to proceed,” Coleman said during the opening of the session.

Six of the eight regents — Denise Ilitch (D-Bingham Farms), Katherine White (D-Ann Arbor), Andrea Fischer Newman (R-Ann Arbor), Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Point), S. Martin Taylor (D-Grosse Point Farms) and Laurence Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) — participated in the meeting via phone. Five of the six approved the plan as Ilitch recused herself from the vote because of her affiliation with the Red Wings — she is the daughter of Mike Ilitch, the owner of the Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Comerica Park.

“While I have no direct interest in the National Hockey League, it is well known that my family has an interest in the Detroit Red Wings Hockey Club and Comerica Park,” Ilitch said. “It is important to me to avoid any appearance of conflict in this matter.”

The Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the two teams expected to play in the contest.


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