How the NHL lockout impacts a local economy

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverOctober 26, 2012 

— Never mind that NHL team owners and players both are losers, so far, in a lockout that has canceled the Carolina Hurricanes’ first home game of the season – originally set for Friday night against the New York Rangers.

Think instead about 1,300 paid workers and volunteer fundraisers who had counted on making money that night by serving more than 18,000 hockey fans at the PNC Arena, from parking lots to popcorn stands.

“A lot of them are paying their way through college with this work,” said Jeff Merritt, executive director of the Centennial Authority, which owns the PNC. “They’re making house payments. That’s really the people that lose.” Click here to find out more!

These financial losses reach far beyond the arena that will be dark Friday and again Sunday, when the Canes had been set to host the Columbus Blue Jackets. The canceled games are hurting bartenders, limousine drivers and restaurant workers who serve hockey fans – along with a slew of nonprofit groups that raise thousands of dollars apiece at Canes games each year.

Michael L. Walden, an N.C. State University economist who studied the PNC Arena’s economic impact this year, credits the Canes with adding nearly 800 jobs and about $46 million a year to the Wake County economy. With 41 home games in a regular season, that’s more than $1 million lost for each game canceled.

As of Thursday, the feuding owners and players had refused even to schedule their next bargaining session. More games are expected to be struck from the calendar. But fans still hope for a deal in time for at least a shortened NHL season that could get under way before mid-November.

Just across Trinity Road from the PNC Arena, Joe Lombrazo normally would have needed 40 employees to handle the frenetic mob of fans, with their red jerseys and pom-poms, who pack his Canes-themed Backyard Bistro on game nights. Servers and bartenders at the sports bar and restaurant can take in $150 to $250 in tips when the team is playing.

“It’s good money,” Lombrazo said Thursday. “Any time there’s a home game, this place is just electric. A waiting line out the door, people who don’t even know each other high-fiving each other. All with the same passion for the Carolina Hurricanes.”

Instead, he’ll have 20 employees working Friday. They can expect to take home about half the game-night tips from lonely Caniacs who will probably show up to stare at – what? not hockey – on 17 video screens that ring the restaurant.

Brittany Barnes has worked through three Canes seasons as a server and manager at Backyard Bistro. Friday was to have been her first chance to tend bar on a Canes game night.

“It would be just standing room for like two hours, and it’s just madness in here,” Barnes said. “And the fans, they’re so nice. They know how to have fun in the right kind of way.”

Canes games also are good business for bars, restaurants and hotels across the city. Pepsi Bottling Ventures sponsors three Caniac Coach buses on game nights, hauling a combined 200 fans back and forth between the arena and entertainment districts in North Hills, Glenwood South and downtown Raleigh.

Pepsi will forgo the proceeds from gallons of fizzy soda that hockey fans would have guzzled Friday night at the PNC Arena. Those restaurants and bars on the bus route will lose money, too.

“It’s bad enough for Pepsi,” said Lyndon Knowles of Pepsi Bottling Ventures. “But it’s the little guy that really gets creamed on this. It’s the person that goes to work in the stadium, the person that’s working hourly.”

With the NHL season in limbo, hockey journalist Dave Droschak isn’t selling ads for his website, hurricanesbeat.com.

“Right now there is no team,” Droschak said. “Normally I would be cashing checks. We would have people signing up for the year. None of that is happening. I can’t go out to an advertiser to sell something that doesn’t exist now. It’s beyond frustrating to people trying to make a living with hockey.”

The Marlins of Raleigh, a swim team with about 475 athletes, counts on raising about $18,000 each year from hockey fans at its RBC concession stand.

“Our expenses are increasing,” said Paul Silver, the head coach. This year the city of Raleigh raised by more than 10 percent the rent it collects for the club’s use of three pools.

He hopes the NHL owners and players will agree soon to get back into business.

“It seems kind of silly, a lot of guys making a whole lot of money, and they’re sitting there throwing it away,” Silver said.

Two Triangle high school bands that sell concessions at the PNC Arena saw their fundraising needs rise sharply this week. The Leesville Road and West Johnston school bands announced Thursday that they will travel to England to perform in a London parade on New Year’s Day 2014.

Heather Miller, the West Johnston band treasurer, figures it will cost $2,500 to $3,500 for each of the 110 band members invited to make the London trip. That’s more than $250,000 in all.

The band raised about $35,000 at Canes games last year, and she’s eager to get started on a new hockey season.

“This is our main way of raising money during winter for people who are unable to pay their share for participating in the band,” said Miller, whose son plays trumpet in the West Johnston band.

Canes fans had been excited about prospects for making the playoffs this year, especially after the team signed team captain Eric Staal’s brother, Jordan, and free agent Alexander Semin.

“I can’t wait for these guys,” said the Centennial Authority’s Merritt. “All the stars seemed to line up for this to be a special season around here. It still could happen, but it’s just not going to happen on the timetable we want it to.”

Meanwhile, at Backyard Bistro, Barnes is thinking about her household expenses. She is beginning to worry, she said, about the prospect of a canceled hockey season.

“It makes you think: Do I need to get a second job, and am I going to need extra income?” said Barnes, 23. “You know, it would be a lot easier bill-wise if there was a Hurricanes season across the road.”

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