Now in its fifth year, the NHL Winter Classic — an annual New Year’s Day outdoor game — has become a marketing bonanza for the league, a ratings winner for NBC and the hottest ticket in hockey.
This year, with January 1 occupied by the NFL’s final Sunday of the regular season, the game shifts to January 2. The Philadelphia Flyers will host the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, home of baseball’s Phillies.
It’s the third time a baseball park has been the venue for the Winter Classic, after Wrigley Field in Chicago (2009) and Fenway Park in Boston (2010). NFL venues Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, and Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA, hosted the Classic in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Citizens Bank Park’s smaller capacity — hockey seating for 43,500 vs. Heinz’s 68,000-plus — and increasing popularity of the Classic has sent ticket prices soaring.
According to ticket search site SeatGeek.com, the Classic is the highest-priced Philadelphia sporting event since the 2009 World Series between the Phillies and New York Yankees. SeatGeek lists an average ticket price of $489.16 for the Classic on the secondary market, more than $80 higher than last year’s game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
That price makes it SeatGeek’s second highest-priced NHL game this season. Tickets to the October 9 game between the Montreal Canadiens and host Winnipeg Jets, which marked the NHL’s return to Winnipeg after 15 years, had a whooping average resale price of $744.
SeatGeek spokesperson Will Flaherty told TicketNews that the lofty average for the Classic has actually gone down in the past six weeks after peaking at $745. Flaherty expects prices to hover in the mid-$300 range before falling slightly over the New Year’s weekend.
Similarly, StubHub.com stats showed Classic prices running 35 percent higher than last year. About 42 percent ticket buyers were from Pennsylvania, 25 percent from New Jersey, and 15 percent from New York. The highest-priced ticket StubHub sold was $4,499 for a seat in the Hall of Fame Club; its lowest, $139 in infield Section 115.
Philly ticket broker Jake Conaway, general manager of Wanamaker Ticket Agency, told TicketNews that, like the NHL, he’s been preparing for the event for months.
“We geared up for this very early on,” Conaway said. “We moved a lot of tickets throughout November and December. We filled our orders early. We’re taking care of a few more clients this week, some hotels.”
A weather forecast that calls for a 30 percent chance of showers and temperatures in the 40s could put a damper on the 1 p.m. (EST) game.
“Right now, you’re finding the warm weather here in Philadelphia isn’t very conducive [to hockey],” Conaway said. “But by today and Friday, it’ll start to ramp up and people will get excited for it. [Ticket] inventory is dissipating rapidly.”
StubHub.com listed about 1,200 tickets left by the afternoon of December 28.
The Rangers come in having won five in a row prior to December 28, when they lost to the Capitals. They’ve taken the lead over Philly in the Atlantic Division, surging two points ahead of the Flyers, who had dropped two in a row heading into their December 29 game.
The build-up this year was helped by an HBO series, “24/7 Flyers-Rangers: Road to the Winter Classic.”
The game telecast will likely set another ratings mark for NBC. The network said last year’s Classic, pushed partly into prime time by a rain delay, had 4.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched NHL regular-season game in 36 years.
The Classic can sometimes become a predictor of future Stanley Cup playoff success, too. One team from each of the first three Classics, starting with the Penguins in ’08, went on to win the Cup the following season.
“We’re pumped up,” Conaway said. “You’ve got the whole New York-Philly thing, so that helps.”