The 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic truck pulls into Boston on Thursday and will park itself beside Fenway Park for the next month. Dan Craig, the man entrusted by the NHL to construct the rink for the upcoming Winter Classic, along with other NHL dignitaries, will address the media at Fenway, launching a major promotional campaign and the construction of the rink for the New Year’s Day event.
But as Bruins principal Charlie Jacobs said on Wednesday, the NHL’s marquee event — next to the Stanley Cup finals — didn’t come easily to Boston. There was stiff competition from other NHL cities to be a host. Jacobs wouldn’t divulge the competitors but stressed that negotiations came down to the last minute.
“We pushed hard, the mayor pushed hard and there was some last-minute negotiations right down to the wire, because it was like having to choose between two girls to take to the dance,” Jacobs said, recalling the final 24 hours before the NHL awarded the Bruins and Fenway Park this season’s Winter Classic. “Who are you going to dance with?
“At the end of the day, I got a last-minute call the night before, [saying] that the game was not going to go to Fenway and that it was going to go to a different location,” Jacobs explained. “The night before they were going to make their decision, I got a call on my cell phone from Tom [Werner], John [Henry] and Larry [Lucchino], and they were trying to figure out exactly what the National Hockey League wanted from Fenway. And I just so had the chance to talk to the National Hockey League prior to and knew what they wanted, so I conveyed what I thought the best terms could be for them. The next day, we got the deal done. The event was moving away, but that’s a story that should be told after.”
Since the first Winter Classic in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, Jacobs knew he wanted the Bruins to host such an event, but it wasn’t until the 2009 game at Wrigley Field that the picture really started to become clearer in his mind.
“Seeing it in a baseball stadium, especially with the ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ theme, just spelled well for us,” Jacobs said. “You don’t hear that song in November, December. And for a lot of Americans, it pulls a lot of heart strings, and it piqued a lot of people’s interest into watching that game. So you think of football on New Year’s Day, but this is a great alternative, which makes it very unique.”
Fenway Park also made sense from a business standpoint as well.
“We have a really good partnership with the Red Sox and our cable network NESN,” Jacobs pointed out. “I thought it spoke well to us in our relationship if we could do it. Having seen it done in Wrigley and how well it played, I thought it would be a natural fit for us to be here.”
In seeing that, he wasted no time in going to work and putting together a plan to bring the 2010 Winter Classic to Fenway Park and Boston. He knew the competition would be hard, and he wanted to get a head start if he could.
“The Winter Classic from Wrigley Field had just concluded, and we were at an NHL board meeting,” Jacobs recalled. “I had a chance to talk to [NHL commissioner] Gary [Bettman] and I had many things on my mind. But one thing I really wanted to convey at the time was if there was a proposal for hosting a Winter Classic, could we please get a copy of it, because we want to make sure we meet the qualifications for doing so. It was like an RFQ [request for qualification]. Do you have one? If there is one, please let us know so that we can get working on it.
“The league mentioned to me at the time that no, it is not decided by an RFQ process of any sort and is more about a collaboration between the National Hockey League, a franchise and our major broadcasting partner, NBC, on where they want to see the game played. Anything that you do, keep those three points in consideration.”
The next step was to start formulating a proposal. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the Red Sox were very interested and more than willing to help, so Jacobs immediately went back to the NHL to begin the lobbying in earnest.
“We lobbied that we thought we could bring it to downtown Boston, so we got Larry and Mayor Menino involved because we knew that it would play well to his strengths,” Jacobs explained. “Fenway would have been the only option for us to have it in downtown Boston.”
As Jacobs pointed out, though, the league wasn’t necessarily sold on Fenway yet and there were other locations being discussed.
“There was some back and forth on whether or not it should be held at a larger venue and whether Boston was the right location. Harvard Stadium, perhaps Gillette,” Jacobs said. “We felt strongly that for that unique event, it best be in the city and at Fenway. Harvard was intriguing, but they had their own challenges in terms of winterization, sightlines, etc. Gillette had some scheduling conflicts with football because they need time for the ice to sit before they can play. Gillette was willing to work with us, and they were very accommodating, but it just didn’t swing.”
The Bruins found out late in the spring that Fenway Park would indeed be the location for this season’s Winter Classic and that Jacobs’ visions that formed after the Wrigley game would become a reality. Since then, there have been countless hours of research and planning to make this the best one yet.
According to Jacobs, the plans are set, and now it’s just a matter of making sure everything is in place. But if not for some last-minute negotiating between all parties, there would be no news conference at Fenway Park on Thursday and no Bridgestone Winter Classic on New Year’s Day in America’s most beloved ballpark.
“It almost didn’t happen, but we got it done, and I couldn’t be more happy and excited,” Jacobs said. “This is going to be the best one yet, I think, and we’re ready to go.”
NESN.com’s James Murphy will be answering one Winter Classic question every day in December.
Wednesday, Dec. 9: How does Michael Ryder remember playing in the Heritage Classic?
Friday, Dec. 11: How will Fenway Park get turned into an ice rink?