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Rigorous Preparation Rewarded As 2019 Winter Classic Generates High Ratings

The 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic drew the best ratings the event has had in four years, thanks to a lot of hard work between the NHL and Notre Dame.

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It’s safe to say the Winter Classic has become one of the National Hockey League’s best traditions. This year’s edition between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins contained added intrigue as the event was played at one of the most hallowed outdoor venues in sport: Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

It turns out, the engagement results were interesting too.

The 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic, played on New Year’s Day, drew a sizable television audience with a 1.94 overnight rating, according to NBC Public Relations. That’s the best rating the event has had in four years and was up from a 1.4 rating in 2014. 

Across NBC, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app, the game averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of nearly three million viewers (2.968 million), forging a 20 percent increase compared to last year’s game, according to Fast National Data from Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

READ MORE: Lenny & Larry’s, Kings Showcase How to Grow a Partnership Over Time

Considering the marketing efforts leading up to the Winter Classic, stakeholders certainly earned the whopping number of eyes. From an operations standpoint, the work involved in setting up the event — a complex process involving mass cross-functional collaboration — also paid off as the ice looked great from the stands and on television.

To prepare the stadium, it was an intensive process not only for the NHL’s operations team, but for the Notre Dame facilities crew as well. 

First, the field was cleared of its goalposts and any other objects on the field. Then, Notre Dame’s grass field was protected by panels of a thick overlay. After that, the rink was built in the middle of the football field. The NHL brought in special refrigeration units to create layers of ice that reportedly set in over the course of about eight days and reached a depth of about two total inches, according to the South Bend Tribune.

While the physical transformation of the stadium took just over a week, the Notre Dame hockey program and the university had been working hand-in-hand with the NHL to make this event happen. Notre Dame Director of Athletic Communications for Men’s Ice Hockey Dan Colleran explained further.

“Once University Vice President James E. Rohr and Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick worked with the NHL to bring the game to Notre Dame Stadium, our Senior Associate Athletics Director, Business Operations/Hockey Administrator, Tom Nevala, had been a key cog in working with the NHL.

“From the team’s perspective, all support units such as equipment, sports medicine, operations, facilities and communications had been involved since the summer with various meetings, conference calls and site visits to help out our counterparts with both teams and the NHL offices.”

In addition to hosting the game this past Tuesday, the Notre Dame men’s hockey team will face Michigan this coming Saturday in the outdoor stadium. The Irish will also wear special uniforms that pay tribute to the program’s 50-year history.

One unique challenge that will come from the pro game being played on the first of the month and the college game being played on the fifth is the fact that students will not be back on campus for a couple weeks.

“With the games right in the middle of break, there certainly will be fewer students able to attend,” Colleran added.

READ MORE: Inside the NHL’s Evolution as a Digital Media Company 

Regardless, it turned out that attendance at the Winter Classic was still very high. The game attracted a sellout crowd of 76,126 — the second-highest attendance in the event’s history next to Michigan Stadium’s 105,491 in 2014. This can be attributed to, among other things, the university’s proximity to Chicago and the upper Midwest’s strong connection to hockey. 

The average attendance for the Winter Classic after 11 games is now 58,663.

This past week’s crowd size is a huge jump from 2018, in which the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres brought in 41,821 fans at Citi Field in Queens. Stadium capacity certainly plays a major role in these totals, but it’s impressive nonetheless that the NHL can pack any venue for this yearly spectacle.

Between the high ratings, strong engagement, and the amount of interest this year’s game created, look for the NHL to pursue more college football stadiums as host sites for future outdoor events.

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

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Kyrie Irving Expected to Sign with Roc Nation

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Irving, who was most recently repped by Jeffrey Wechsler of 24/7 Sports Management, joins an NBA client roster at Roc Nation that includes the likes of Kevin Durant, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Danny Green and Caris LeVert.

The switch in representation comes on the same day that Irving took the first step toward his prospective free agency this summer.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Irving is not opting into his $21.3 million contract for the 2019-20 season and will become an unrestricted free agent.

By not opting into his contract, Irving can sign with any NBA team when free agency opens on Sunday, June 30th.

If he signs with a team other than the Celtics, he will be eligible to sign a max deal worth $139 million over four years.

If he were to stay with the Celtics, Irving can sign a five-year deal worth $188 million.

An industry source speculated that Roc Nation could be waiving the fees on Irving’s contract in order to retain his marketing rights.

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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