Winter Classic in Ann Arbor on the ropes: Hotels brace for bad news, hope for the best
Hoteliers are bracing for bad news as rumblings grow stronger that the Winter Classic hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium, scheduled for Jan. 1, could be canceled before the end of the week.
A dispute over the collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners in the National Hockey League has led to a lockout that has already forced the cancellation of all games through Nov. 30. An announcement is expected to be made on the fate of the annual outdoor New Year's Day game on Thursday, the day before a $250,000 deposit is due to the University of Michigan.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
“The hotel is pretty much sold out right now, but obviously I think that the game’s going to be canceled,” said Joe Sefcovic, general manager of the Holiday Inn near the University of Michigan, located on Plymouth Road. “I hope not, but we should find out shortly.”
Many hotels, bars and restaurants were preparing for record New Year's sales numbers, but could be left with normal, or even below-average holiday traffic. Sefcovic said that his hotel was nearly entirely booked for the weekend already despite a two-night minimum booking requirement.
“This was going to be like an extra football weekend for us,” he said.
Spinoff revenue from previous Winter Classics in Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have been reported to be between $22 and $36 million, far more than the $14 million generated from Michigan home football games.
“The whole town was pretty much in the same boat. I see a significant loss of revenue for the hoteliers if this falls through," Sefcovic said. "It’s a major curveball, no one ever expected this to happen, but you have money and greed dictating what’s going on. It’s frustrating for the fans and everyone that’s involved in it.”
Weber’s Inn has been running a New Year's package that includes a night at the hotel and a holiday party for more than 25 years, president and owner Ken Weber said. With the Winter Classic coming to town, that package was expanded into a three-night stay centered around the game, with an NHL-themed party on New Year's Eve.
“We had (about thirty) bookings already, including some corporate bookings from Toronto,” Weber said.
“Now it’s all up in the air. We understand it’s a possibility it will be canceled. If that’s the case we’ll just have to pull that package and come up with one that’s just a New Year's Eve package. But we’ve been doing that for so long it shouldn't be a problem.”
Weber said that the New Year's package at his hotel sells out every year and that he’s not worried about a loss in occupancy if the event is canceled. The three-night deal was priced at $1,175 per couple, while last year's New Year's event started at $369 for the one night.
If the game is canceled, Sefcovic said that hotel owners could "do the right thing" and not hold onto previously non-refundable deposits.
"If I was going somewhere to see the Super Bowl and then the game wasn't going to be played anymore, I wouldn't go," Sefcovic said.
"So I understand how people will feel and I could see people getting their money back."
The Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has been planning a “Puck Stops Here” event for downtown Ann Arbor that is scheduled for final review by the city on Nov. 8. Plans for the event call for shutting down a section of North Main Street between East William and East Huron streets, a roaming hot beverage cart, and the dropping of a “puck” lit by LED lights at midnight to bring in the New Year.
Organizer Jen DeGregorio said in an email that the CVB plans to proceed with the downtown party if it is approved by the city regardless of whether the Winter Classic takes place.
Thursday could be a bad day for hotels and businesses in the area, but Sefcovic is confident that even if this year’s event is canceled, there will be an NHL game in Ann Arbor.
“They’re going to come back,” he said.
“Maybe not this year, it might be next year, but I think we’ll see in the end the Wings will play in Ann Arbor.”