May 28, 2010: The NHL likes it outside and will continue to play there, twice in 2011. Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that the league would stage its fourth annual Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2011, at Heinz Field, which is home to the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers. He also said the league would stage an outdoor Heritage Classic game in Canada the next month in Calgary.
The U.S. game will feature two of the league's most popular and most marketable players — Sidney Crosby of the host Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the visiting Washington Capitals.
The Winter Classic will air live on NBC in the U.S. and CBC and RDS in Canada.
The second outdoor game next season, potentially on Feb. 20, will see the Calgary Flames play host to the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium, which is home to to the CFL's Stampeders. The game in Calgary will mark the NHL's return to an outdoor event in Canada, where in 2003 the Heritage Classic was played in Edmonton between the Oilers and Canadiens.
A spokesman from Bridgestone said the company would not be title sponsor of the Heritage Classic, and the NHL said it would seek another league partner to be title sponsor for the outdoor game in Canada. The NHL likely will engage the Heritage Classic title sponsorship pact from among its marketing partners whose deals include Canada but not the U.S.: LG Electronics, Labatt, ScotiaBank, Bell, Energizer, Kraft Canada and Hershey Canada.
The unveiling of the 2011 Winter and Heritage Classics comes just two days after the NHL and Bridgestone renewed their marketing alliance, securing the tire company as title sponsor for the outdoor event through 2014. Amp Energy was the title sponsor of the first Winter Classic, played in Buffalo in 2008, but Bridgestone took over title sponsorship for the 2009 game played at Chicago's Wrigley Field and in 2010 for the game at Boston's Fenway Park.
The second game is in response to Canadian-based league team's that wanted to share in what has become a New Year's Day staple, with more marketing support and activation from NHL partners and increased ratings on NBC. Versus would air the Heritage Classic in the U.S.
“I believe, based on the sense that we're getting, particularly north of the 49th parallel from our fans, that there was a real interest and desire to have us do another outdoor game in Canada,” Bettman said during a press conference. “The Winter Classic in the United States has worked extraordinarily well for us and we wanted to make sure that our fans in Canada knew we were paying attention to their interests and their desires, as well.”
“The Winter Classic in the U.S. has worked extraordinarily well for us and we wanted to make sure that our fans in Canada knew we were paying attention to their interests and their desires." — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
The two outdoor games will sandwich the 2011 NHL All-Star Game, which will be hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes the weekend of Jan. 29-30, making for a lot of high-profile NHL action in a short period.
The announcement of the 2011 Winter Classic also comes just days after the NFL selected the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, as the site for Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014, making it the first Super Bowl to be played in an outdoor stadium in a cold weather climate.
For the 2011 Winter Classic, Bridgestone will receive several assets in addition to incorporating its logo into the official game and event mark. They include on-air title broadcast rights from all league broadcast partners (NBC, CBC and RDS); branded promotion in NBC programming; camera-visible dasherboard placements of the Bridgestone logo; in-arena video spots and PA announcements; and integration of the Bridgestone brand throughout all NHL media properties, including video, print, online and radio.
Commissioner Bettman said that the NHL would continue to move its Winter Classic among its U.S. league cities, including Washington within the next two or three seasons.
"In doing our due diligence for this game, we could not help but be impressed by the fan interest and the possibilities in Washington D.C., so our plan is to do an outdoor game in Washington in the next two to three years," said Bettman. "We think that will be an excellent venue opportunity, market and fan base for us to connect to with this event as well.
With the teams selected for the 2011 Winter Classic, the Penguins become the first team to play in two Winter Classics, having participated in the 2008 game. One drawback in using Heinz Field is that the Steelers play a home game on Dec. 23 against the Carolina Panthers, with the NHL needing about five days to set up their facilitites. The Steelers then might need the field again for the start of the NFL playoffs the weekend of Jan. 8-9. For the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston, the NHL and the community had access to the ice rink in Fenway Park for several weeks due to MLB's off-season.
“The Winter Classic has become an iconic event in its four years of existence, and the opportunity to host the game here in Pittsburgh, before a packed stadium of 65,000, is a tremendous honor for our organization,” Penguins president David Morehouse said during the Winter Classic press conference. “With the cooperation of our friends at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Heinz Field, it will give us an opportunity to showcase the city to an international audience while celebrating Pittsburgh’s reputation as one of the premier sports towns in the United States.”
Morehouse said the Penguins are in the "preliminary stages of planning activities" surrounding the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. He expects full support from the mayor, county executive, VisitPittsburgh tourist bureau, the Steelers and officials at Heinz Field "to make the [event] a truly memorable event with a Pittsburgh touch.”
According to Art Rooney, II. president of the Steelers, “We are excited that Heinz Field has been selected to host the upcoming Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. It will be an exciting kickoff to the New Year and an opportunity to showcase our city and Heinz Field to hockey fans around the world.”
Details on ticket availability will be released by the NHL at a later date. All Penguins season ticket holders and suite holders will have the opportunity to purchase tickets. Fans can receive Winter Classic ticketing alerts and news updates at NHL.com.
In addition to Washington, other U.S. cities and areas have shown strong interest in hosting the Winter Classic, including Minnesota (potentially at Target Field, home of the Twins) and New York (possibly at Citi Field, home of the Mets).