BOSTON (Reuters) - The NHL soaked up rave reviews on Saturday after another successful Winter Classic as commissioner Gary Bettman expressed delight at the event’s phenomenal appeal.
The Boston Bruins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 before a packed Fenway Park on Friday in the outdoor contest that has caught the imagination of the public and sponsors.
More than 300,000 fans entered a lottery for the 39,000 tickets on offer while television ratings have skyrocketed.
“If there is any indication to the traction this is getting from sponsors and advertisers — business partner investment has increased at about 66 percent a year so the message is taking hold,” Bettman told reporters.
“The business community has realized and recognized that this is a great way to reach customers, to reach sports fans, to reach our fans.”
The NHL.com website said Bettman confirmed the league was in the process of choosing a venue for the 2011 Classic but when questioned by reporters he declined to be drawn on the future.
“There have been a lot of things speculated, there have been a lot of things brainstormed but we have not made any decisions and we are not close to it,” he said.
“The thing that is forefront, if we were looking at the possibility in addition to doing another one next year, is the possibility of a second game in Canada with two Canadian teams.”
While Bettman was strangely reluctant to announce plans for a fourth Winter Classic it seems inconceivable the NHL would not develop a game that has quickly become its signature event.
A poll of 1,100 senior sports industry executives in Sports Business Daily has rated the Winter Classic fifth among sporting events they were most looking forward to in 2010 ahead of the World Series, U.S. Masters golf, NBA finals and Daytona 500.
The Super Bowl was top followed by the Vancouver Winter Olympics, soccer World Cup and NCAA basketball Final Four.
Having invested millions of dollars in state-of-the-art ice making equipment, the NHL will almost certainly stage a Winter Classic in 2011 and add a second game to satisfy hockey-mad Canadian fans who have felt slighted by the focus on the U.S.
New York and Washington have been mentioned by local media as possible venues for next year’s event in the U.S. while Calgary and Toronto have expressed interest in hosting the outdoor spectacle in Canada.
Editing by Ken Ferris