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The Economic Impact of the NHL Lockout

Oct. 9, 2012
3 mins
Overhead shot of a couple relaxing at home on their couch. The man is watching tv and the woman is surfing on her laptop.

The NHL labour dispute is a classic David and Goliath battle. With the downtrodden multi-millionaire players pitted against their impoverished billionaire employers, the real Davidian losers in this fight are the fans, and the countless thousands of people who earn part or all of their (far smaller) incomes based on others playing a game on ice. Here’s a look at the economic impact hockey has on this country, and the real losers when the game doesn’t go on.

The real victims

It’s not just the players who make their livelihood on the game; the first line of people effected by a lockout are those that work in the same building as the players, from ticket takers and hot dog vendors, to ushers and office staff. At the end of August, the Montreal Canadians announced that their office staff would be forced to take a day off – and a 20 per cent pay cut – during a lockout. That’s a better deal than the roughly 2,000 ticket takers, beer and food vendors, and other part-time staff who put in a few hours’ work during each game at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. No games means no work. The circles radiate out from there. In an article in the Boston Business Journal, Pat Moscaritolo, CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau estimated that “each home game is worth anywhere between $850,000 to $1 million,” to restaurants, memorabilia shops, and other businesses in the immediate vicinity around the Bruins’ TD Garden home. How? A good portion of the nearly 20,000 people who stream in to each game are going to have a pre-game meal at a nearby restaurant, maybe pick up a team toque or pricey replica jersey and, post-game, may pop into a bar for a couple rounds of celebratory (or consoling) drinks. Real die-hards will even make a weekend road trip out of a game, booking hotel rooms, and looking for meals and other entertainment outside of the arena. When you consider that there are 30 NHL arenas and a total of 1,230 regular season games played in a season, that spillover revenue adds up to a big chunk of change.

And it’s not just sports bars that feel that effects. Take Boo Radley’s, a west end Toronto bar, better known as “Boo’s.” (Say it out loud.) With good food and a great selection of draft beers, hockey isn’t the main reason people frequent his establishment, but owner Michael Flaxman admits, “If the games are on, people watch. And they’ll stay longer if there’s a game.” Compared to evenings when the Leafs aren’t on the tube, “I’ll make maybe another 10 per cent by the end of the night.”

Potential silver linings

That said, recent NHL labour disputes have taught us that the Canadian economy is not going to suddenly come screeching to a grinding halt, no matter how long the lockout lasts. People aren’t going to suddenly stop eating and drinking just because there’s no game on. In fact, BMO Nesbitt Burns estimates that even if the entire season were cancelled, it would only have a negative impact of about 0.1 per cent on our national GDP.

The 2004–2005 NHL lockout coincided with the rise of the poker phenomenon, and many would-be fans channelled their energy into tracking their favourite poker player’s stats, happily scarfing down chicken wings and beer while watching a card game on TV. Perhaps it’s time for a competitive checkers channel? Okay, maybe not. But instead of sitting around in bars and basements watching grown men play a game, maybe we’ll all find something else productive to do with our time.

Actually, there’s one group of people taking a financial hit that might actually warrant a note in the positives category: all the scalpers stuck with tickets they can’t sell.

Hockey cards

Can’t bear the thought of not seeing your team on the ice? Would having them in your wallet help ease the pain of withdrawal? The ScotiaHockey NHL Visa features teams logos and earns you points you can redeem for hockey themed merchandize, including game tickets. If you’re a player yourself, your own gear expenses could go a long way toward your pro entertainment, as the card gets five points on the dollar when you shop at  SportChek. 

Well – when the pros finally return to the ice, that is.

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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