It's nearly a foregone conclusion that the Red Wings will be hosting the 2013 Winter Classic. The NHL's annual event and recently worst kept secret has become the flagship event for the NHL, more than any part of All-Star weekend or even the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who also owns the Detroit Tigers, would obviously prefer to keep all the revenue in-house by having the game at Comerica Park, which holds 41,255. But the NHL has their sights set on something much bigger. The biggest, in fact: Michigan Stadium, also known as "The Big House."
According to Jeff Arnold of Puck Daddy, the NHL is in advance discussions with University of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon about hosting the game at the school's football stadium, which welcomed 113,411 fans for an outdoor game between Michigan and Michigan State on December 11, 2010:
Multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports this week that the NHL is in advanced discussions with the University of Michigan about holding the 2013 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.
One source, who spoke on a condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon wasn't initially sold on the idea of the NHL hosting an outdoor game at Michigan Stadium. But over a matter of a couple of weeks, the source said "something happened to make it go from looking like it could happen to [a point where] it probably will."
Unlike previous years, where the Winter Classic was announced over the summer, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman waited until late September to announce this year's matchup between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers at Citizens Bank Ballpark.
This year, though, Bettman will be looking to get the announcement out of the way much earlier. A Sports Business Journal article published earlier this week said the NHL was looking to finalize the location of next year's Winter Classic prior to the All-Star Game on January 29 and hinted that the next Classic will "break records."
An AnnArbor.com article stated that though talks may be ongoing, the NHL is not interested in stirring rumors further until there is officially news to report:
NHL vice president of communications John Dellapina declined to comment on the NHL's interest in playing at the Big House.
"We don't comment about potential sites for specific Winter Classics until contracts are signed," Dellapina said in an email.
Michigan has had a flare for the spotlight since Brandon took over as the school's athletic director. In addition to last year's "Big Chill at the Big House," the Michigan football team also hosted Notre Dame for the first night game in the 85-year history of Michigan Stadium and shattered all previous stadium records with an attendance of 114,804.
The 113,411 that took in last year's outdoor game set the Guinness World Record for attendance at a hockey game by over 25,000. Though unlike last year, where Michigan hosted a number of other high school and college games as well as public skating events, the NHL game would be the only contest played, according to Arnold's report.
The college outdoor game at Michigan included a post-game choreographed fireworks show and a pre-game flyover. Talk circulated during the event that if Michigan did host another outdoor game, the school would like to do it in conjunction with the NHL, pointing to a Red Wings-Maple Leafs match-up.
The source said if the Winter Classic would be played at Michigan Stadium, it would be the only event played. Last year, the Big Chill At The Big House was one of 26 games played, including college and high school games — as well as a public skate.
Few venues around the world cram in spectators better than Michigan Stadium. While there are still a bevy of revenue-related details that still need to be ironed out, it's hard to imagine a record-breaking day the NHL envisions without the allure of The Big House and 113,000 of it's closest friends on a chilly afternoon in Ann Arbor.