NHL lockout could hurt Windsor economy

A local tour agent is watching the NHL contract negotiations closely after investing thousands in the annual Winter Classic, which is to be played in Ann Arbor this year.

One travel agent says 'millions of dollars are at stake'

The NHL's Winter Classic is to be played in Ann Arbor, Mich., about 45 minutes from Windsor, Ont. (Associated Press file)

An NHL work stoppage could cost the Windsor, Ont., economy.

According to Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, the region "will benefit from the thousands of fans expected to congregate for the event."

A record crowd of more than 100,000 fans are expected to attend the NHL's annual outdoor hockey game.

This season's game features the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. It's scheduled for New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., approximately 45 minutes from Windsor, a city divided when it comes to the Original Six rivalry.

However, NHL owners could lock out their players at the end of this week. That means the Winter Classic could be in doubt if there is no season.

One local tour agent is watching the proceedings closely.

Mo Regnier is the president of Great Adventure Tours based in Tecumseh, just east of Windsor. Outside of the NHL itself, his company has the largest block of hotel rooms booked in Ann Arbor, where the 2013 Winter Classic is to be held. He also has rooms booked in Windsor and Detroit, site of the alumni game and other festivities.

Regnier has 1,000 tickets to the Winter Classic. He will also run shuttle buses and has other events planned should the season and game go ahead. Regnier has a meeting scheduled Tuesday with Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.

"There are millions of dollars at stake for all the partners and quite a lot for myself," Regnier said. "Every day, we're watching on the Sept. 15 deadline on the potential lockout."

So is Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island. Spokesperson Chris Racine said members of the tourism organization met last week with NHL officials and were reassured that events like an outdoor OHL game featuring the Windsor Spitfires and the Great Lakes Invitational will go ahead as planned, even during an NHL work stoppage.

"We're still viewing it as profitable for the region," he said. "But let's all hope the [Winter Classic] goes on as scheduled."

Transit Windsor will also feel a financial effect if there is no NHL season. The service runs buses to all 41 Detroit Red Wings home games at Joe Louis Arena. The cost is $8, round trip. Depending on the team in town, as many as 800 people take the bus.

"Our budget for the year is based on special events that take place in Detroit. A strike would definitely affect the service we provide," said Transit Windsor general manager Pat Delmore.

A cancelled season would mean a Transit Windsor would save money by not needing drivers for the Wings games. But it would still suffer a net loss. Delmore didn't have a dollar figure available.

Rob Miller owns Dirty Jerseys Sports Bar on Windsor's east end. He said he knows for a fact a lockout would hurt his bottom line.

"We were around for the last lockout and it was definitely a lot slower without hockey," he said. "Anytime there is a Leafs or Wings game, we get a lot of people in here."

He said he is planning special events to coincide with the Winter Classic.

Millions in revenue

According to the Detroit Red Wings, the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston netted $36 million US and the game in Pittsburgh brought in $22 million US.

However, the Wings say the 2013 Winter Classic revenue will likely not rival the $270 million US the 2006 Super Bowl at Detroit’s Ford Field generated. The City of Windsor paid $250,000 to co-host Super Bowl XL with Detroit. 

Racine said 9,000 hotel nights were booked in Windsor for Super Bowl XL.

Regnier is hopeful the NHL can come to an agreement.

"We're hoping that millionaires can all work it out together and we can take care of the fans and have the NHL Winter Classic take place," Regnier said.

Regnier said the longer the start to the NHL season is delayed, the worse it makes preparing for the Winter Classic.

"What will be a bigger hit is if the season's postponed and they don't actually say there's a season until November, and then they decide to play the Winter Classic, then it's a mad scramble," Regnier said. "You potentially could be stuck with a lot of tickets, hotel rooms and excess inventory."

Regnier told CBC News his investment in the game is "in the six digits."

League commissioner Gary Bettman set this coming Saturday as the deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement.