Businesses Try To Get By During Hockey Lockout

The National Hockey League has now canceled all games through the end of November, as team owners lock out players in a labor dispute. In the meantime, there are many businesses and workers who count on hockey games to help make ends meet. But they are now trying to make due without.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We can at least tell you that not one hockey game will be canceled because of Hurricane Sandy, a pro hockey game anyway. The National Hockey League has canceled all games through the end of November as team owners lock out players in a labor dispute. The players and owners are at odds over how to divide up hockey-related revenue, which topped $3 billion last year. More than 200 players are now plying their trade with teams in Europe, anticipating a long lockout.

But as NPR's David Schaper reports, that's an option not open to the many businesses and workers who count on hockey games to help make ends meet.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOCKEY GAME)

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The venue is the Allstate Arena, just outside of Chicago - home of the minor-league Chicago Wolves, but the crowd is hungry for NHL-caliber hockey.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SCHAPER: How hungry? With just 10 days advance notice and no advertising, more than 12,000 rabid fans turned out last Friday night for a charity game organized by a group of NHL players - most of them current or former Chicago Blackhawks. And the nearly full arena exploded when one of the hometown stars scored the first goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SCHAPER: Of course, it wasn't a hard-hitting, intensely competitive game, but the fans were thrilled nonetheless.

SU BLEIDL: I think it was awesome. I mean, anything for charity is awesome.

SCHAPER: Sporting a bright red Blackhawks jersey in a concession line in between periods is Su Bleidl of suburban River Grove.

BLEIDL: But these guys got to get out of this lockout. We need a season going here. We're dying. Everybody's dying for the season to just get started.

SCHAPER: And Kathy Maris, who attended the game with her 11-year-old son Nicholas, calls the lockout a huge disappointment.

KATHY MARIS: We don't know what to make of it. We just want it to go away so that we can start watching games.

SCHAPER: These fans didn't hesitate to pay $10 to $500 for tickets to this charity game; not to mention dropping $13 on parking, $7.50 on each beer, and six bucks or more for each hot dog or slice of pizza. That's a lot of money that would be spent at NHL arenas, if not for the lockout.

Bars, restaurants and hotels around the NHL arenas lose out, too. And cities lose valuable tax revenue. In Detroit, each canceled game at publicly owned Joe Louis Arena costs the city almost two million dollars. Pittsburgh's tourism office estimates that each game that's not played there costs that city more than two million.

But what's the broad economic impact of this labor standoff to most NHL cities?

ALLEN SANDERSON: It's approximately zero.

SCHAPER: Allen Sanderson is a sports economist at the University of Chicago. He says in place of NHL games, most fans will just spend their money elsewhere within the region - maybe at minor league hockey games, college sporting events or at movies, plays and restaurants.

SANDERSON: These kinds of things, whether it's a strike or a lockout, probably affect where people drink beer, but not how much beer they drink.

SCHAPER: To be sure, the lockout will be a huge hit to those businesses near NHL arenas and their employees, says Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Chamber of Commerce.

MATT KRAMER: There's also a secondary ring of businesses that do a great deal of business with the arena itself.

SCHAPER: Kramer says that includes companies from the big food service suppliers for the Minnesota Wild's arena, to the small specialty producers that provide local fare such as mini-donuts and cheese curds.

KRAMER: And that includes - and this will sound silly - but given that it's hockey, dentists. Everybody who's in the dentistry business for the Minnesota Wild, all of a suddenly, just took a hit because the players aren't losing their front teeth.

SCHAPER: Of course, most dentists have many more patients than just hockey players. And Kramer says many business owners learned from the last lockout, which cancelled the entire 2004-2005 season, and now try to be less dependent on NHL games for their survival.

But he says nothing can replace the jolt they get by having 20,000 excited fans going to 40 to 50 games at an arena that's just a block or two away.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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