Bars and restaurants normally filled to capacity in St. Paul, Minn. on nights when there’s a Minnesota Wild game have empty tables. An impasse between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association has resulted in games being canceled at the nearby Xcel Energy Center. That means fewer people are coming into town.
Business at the Great Waters Brewing Co., a brewpub located near the Xcel Center, is down 20 percent since the start of the lockout. For owner Sean O’Byrne, it’s a painful reminder of the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out the entire NHL season. But he says the current dispute, which so far has resulted in games being canceled through Nov. 1, is harder because small businesses like his are still recovering from the recession.
“The economic times are different now, and I think the one thing that’s become apparent to me is the sort of ripple effect the hockey strike has,” he says. “It’s not just the bars and restaurants, it’s the local food vendors and their suppliers.”
Strikes and lockouts in major sports leagues — whether it’s this year’s NHL lockout, last year’s National Basketball Association lockout or baseball and football strikes of the past — can have a devastating effect on small businesses that cater to sports fans. When 18,000 fans don’t stream into a downtown arena on a game night, restaurants and bars have far fewer people to serve and parking lots can sit empty. There are fewer shoppers in downtown stores. It’s particularly painful in a town like St. Paul or Pittsburgh, where there’s no NBA team to help make up for the losses. And it’s tough for a business still being hurt by a weak economy.
So far, the NHL has canceled 135 games through Nov. 1. Each team plays 42 home games. The impact of the lockout stretches across 30 teams in U.S. cities including Nashville, Tenn., Los Angeles, and Raleigh, N.C. Twenty-three of the teams are in the U.S. and the rest are based in Canada.
In Pittsburgh, each canceled game at the Consol Energy Center is estimated to cost the city $2.2 million, says Craig Davis, president of VisitPittsburgh, the city’s tourism office. That amount includes tickets and food sales at the arena, spending at restaurants and bars, hotel rooms and parking. Not all of that money is lost by small businesses — many hotels, for example, are owned by big corporations. And downtown Pittsburgh hosts conventions during the fall, which helps mitigate some of the financial damage.