August 6, 2010: The NHL has confirmed that there will be a second outdoor game during the 2010-11 season, the previously discussed Heritage Classic in Canada on Feb. 20, less than two months after the Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. However, the NHL has yet to find a title sponsor for the game in Canada.
According to a league spokesperson, the NHL is "in the process of seeking and securing" a title sponsor for the Heritage Classic. The game will be played at McMahon Stadium, home to the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders and site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Bridgestone, which has been title sponsor for the Winter Classic since the game on New Year's Day 2009, said it would not seek a similar role with the outdoor game north of the border.
The NHL has several marketing partners that active solely or mostly in Canada, making them the most likely companies to take the Heritage Classic title sponsorship. Among them are LG Electronics, Labatt, ScotiaBank, Bell, Energizer, Kraft Canada and Hershey Canada.
The 2011 Heritage Classic will be staged eight years after the first outdoor game in NHL history, which took place in Canada in 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. That event had Molson Canada as title sponsor.
THe NHL did not give a time frame for securing and announcing the title sponsorship, and still is a comfortable distance away from the game itself to give that marketer and the league time to active behind the game. However, executives at Bridgestone found that they garnered the best response when their title sponsorship of the Winter Classic played in Boston's Fenway Park on Jan. 1, 2010 was revealed when the NHL unveiled details of that game in July 2009.
"The biggest thing is we made the decision for the 2010 Winter Classic [in Boston] much earlier than we did with the Wrigley Field Winter Classic [the previous year']," Phil Pacsi, vice president, North America Consumer Tire Marketing, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, told NYSportsJournalism during an interview this past December. "The Wrigley Field deal was done maybe a month or two prior to the event. We announced the renewal of our sponsorship for the upcoming Winter Classic well in advance of the 2010 event. So we were on board from the start of the NHL's announcement in July of the Winter Classic and the Fenway Park location. We have been able to take advantage and get the benefits from the point of announcement, including the name integration in the logo. From the first announcement we were associated with the event, which is huge."
The league revived its outdoor game scenario on Jan. 1, 2008 with a game at between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008. It received great response from fans, media, marketing partners and TV viewers. Pepsi's Amp Energy Drink was title sponsor, but Bridgestone took over that role for the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field between Detroit Red Wings played the Chicago Blackhawks. On Jan. 1, 2010, the Boston Bruins played host to the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park.
Bridgestone and the NHL recently renewed their alliance for five more years, which includes the tire company's title sponsorship of the NHL Winter Classic.
The Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames will be the teams in the 2011 Heritage Classic. NHL official outfitter Reebok is supplying retro jerseys for both teams.
"Our first regular-season outdoor game was played in Canada, and it's great to be coming back," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said during a media event at McMahon Stadium on Aug. 5. "As everyone knows, the roots of our game are in Canada. And the roots of our game emanate from frozen ponds and backyard rinks in Canada. When you have a heritage as proud and as strong as we do, you want to celebrate it."
The early part of 2011 will be a busy time for the NHL with two outdoor games plus the All-Star Game and surrounding events hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes the weekend of Jan. 29-30, But the league said the time was right add a second outdoor game to the schedule.
"We wanted to be responsive," Bettman said. We knew how well the 2003 Heritage Classic game was received, how great a game it was. And we were also, despite all the good reviews we were getting for the Winter Classic in the United States, we were hearing from fans in Canada, 'We'd like a game as well.'"
Bettman acknowledged that critics see this as overkilling what has become a crown jewel event for the league. "There have been some who have said, 'How can you do more than one game?' But we think having these two games is the absolute right balance and is responding for what we're hearing our fans telling us they want."
The 2003 Heritage Classic was played in front of 57,167 fans. McMahon Stadium, located on the campus of the University of Calgary, has a listed capacity of 35,650. But there were 46,020 people in attendance at the venue for the 2009 CFL championship Grey Cup game.
The NHL already has committed to the continuation of the Bridgestone Winter Classic, with Washington, Minnesota and the New York area targeted as potential host cities. The league has not yet confirmed that the Heritage Classic will become an annual event.
For 2011 Outdoor Classics, The NHL Goes Fourth And Multiplies