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Commentary: Loss for Ann Arbor will result in bigger loss for Columbus

With the Winter Classic on ice, will the NHL All-Star Game be next to face the ax of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
With the Winter Classic on ice, will the NHL All-Star Game be next to face the ax of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The last time Ann Arbor’s and Columbus’ respective college football teams had the same result, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee referred to the draw as one of the ‘greatest wins’ in Ohio State football history.

Today’s announcement by the NHL will have no winners. The University of Michigan was scheduled to host this year’s Winter Classic. The NHL lockout has axed the league’s version of the Super Bowl.

Though regular season games for Jan. 1 have not been officially postponed yet, logistical issues resulted in today’s cancellation of the Winter Classic.

“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. "We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected.”

The Winter Classic has become a cash cow not only to the NHL but the city that hosts it. Michigan Stadium was prepared to host over 100,000 hockey fans to what has become one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports.

The projected economic impact to Ann Arbor was supposed to be over $15 million. That is money Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan is supposed to get back in 2014, if the league can salvage itself before settling a grim lockout.

Don’t celebrate too much about Ann Arbor’s loss, Columbus is next.

Not directly affected by today’s announcement is the NHL All-Star Game scheduled to be in Columbus in January. It seems to be a matter of time before this too will be cancelled and the darkness known as a hockey-less winter becomes nuclear.

The logistical issues of keeping the All-Star Game hopes alive for Columbus’ Nationwide Arena will come into play soon as well. The NHL secures flights, hotel accommodations, and conference rooms for league executives and sponsors. It would not be fair to Columbus business owners to string the city along only to cancel the game at the last possible second.

The economic impact of the NHL All-Star Game is about as high as the Winter Classic to boot. Last year’s exhibition in Raleigh, N.C. brought in over $10 million. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has cancelled all games through November and unless a miracle takes place in negotiating, it is likely the NHL All-Star Game will be wiped before there are many more games cancelled.

But if you are like Gee and have to pick a winner and a loser, Columbus clearly loses.

Hockey will still be played in southeastern Michigan over New Year’s weekend with the Great Lakes Invitational (which was scheduled to be played at Comerica Park before the Winter Classic was cancelled) at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. Michigan Stadium is just two years removed from hosting an outdoor hockey game in front of over 100,000 between Michigan State and Michigan.

This is not to say southeastern Michigan does not suffer, but the area will still have hockey being played in an NHL venue and will get its return date with the NHL relatively promptly.

Columbus has had little to celebrate when it comes to hockey. In the 13 years of the Blue Jackets, fans in Columbus have had to endure no playoff victories and two lockouts. The loss of the NHL All-Star Game is not only an incredible economic downer, but it punches the morale.

To compound the angst, Ann Arbor will get the NHL’s Winter Classic next time it happens. That date will likely be pushed back exactly a year to Jan. 1, 2014.

The NHL All-Star game is traditionally not played during Olympic years. Next year, Russia hosts the Winter Olympics so it is unlikely an All-Star Game will be played. That means even if the NHL announces the next exhibition will be played in Columbus, it could be two more years before the game is played. That if looms large.

The All-Star Game which was scheduled for Atlanta in 2005 was cancelled due to a lockout. Though Phillips Arena eventually got the All-Star game in 2008, the club was beginning to pack its bags for Winnipeg while the game was being played.

Let’s hope Columbus’ hockey squad does not suffer the same fate as Atlanta did when it lost its All-Star Game bid. The good fans of Columbus do not deserve the punishment the NHL is about to serve to this city.


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