The standoff between the NHL owners and the players continues. The longer it goes, the less chance there will be for a 2012-2013 hockey season. Perhaps there is something to doomsday, after all.
There’s no doubt hockey is big business in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. And with just seven teams in this great big country, they draw a lot of tourists.
The trickle-down effects are substantial. Tour operators, concession stands, parking lot operators, retailers, bars and restaurants, venue employees, hotels and even sports lotteries face a substantial loss in revenue.
How much money are we talking about? It’s hard to nail a specific figure, but no matter how you slice it, it’s a lot. A 2011 report from the Conference Board of Canada showed that Canadian NHL franchises have a revenue footprint within the Canadian economy of about $750 million. And that was before the Jets returned to Winnipeg, so the number is even higher.
Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets told the Wall Street Journal that a cancelled NHL season would cut about 0.1% from the country’s GDP. In real dollars that’s something like $1.8 billion. Not enough to affect the country as a whole, but certainly enough to have a local impact.
“Hockey is as ingrained in Canadian society as football is in the U.S. or as football is in Europe – their football, that is. I would put it on par with – if not even well above – that,” Porter told the Journal.
As I write this, there is still a chance that part of the season might be salvaged. But with each passing day, those prospects grow dim.
One highlight of the NHL season is the Winter Classic – an outdoor game that brings back memories of pond hockey. It really is something special and no matter where it’s played, it draws fans from across North America.
This year’s tilt had the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs lined up for a New Years Day clash in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just a short drive from Windsor, Ontario, but last week the league announced that the Winter Classic would be cancelled, with no CBA reached between them and the players.
A representative from Tourism Windsor-Essex-Pelee Island explained to the CBC that the Windsor region would have benefitted from the tens of thousands of fans expected to have attended the game. With the game cancelled, the effects on Windsor’s economy will be substantial.
In Calgary, many business owners are worried about how a cancelled season would affect the city. Speaking to the Calgary Herald, Randy Williams, president and CEO of Tourism Calgary, said Flames games are an “economic engine for Calgary.”
About 20 per cent of game attendees are from out of town and spend money on travel, meals and accommodation.
“The longer it drags out, it exacerbates the economic impact,” Willams told the Herald. “A lost season (has) considerable negative impact on the Canadian economy, let alone Calgary.”
Speaking to the Toronto Sun, City Councillor Michael Thompson said the lockout would have major implications for Toronto’s economy.
“It is a big impact on the local economy, the restaurants, the whole sector will suffer dramatically,” Thompson told the Sun. “All those jobs – the restaurants, the entertainment area, the hotels – that benefit from hockey, not to mention the jobs in the Air Canada Centre particularly.”
In some markets there are options. There’s junior hockey and Toronto has the Raptors NBA franchise to help draw sports fans. But in smaller markets, there aren’t a lot of big ticket alternatives. The CFL season is wrapping up as is Major League Soccer.
Are the other options strong enough to pull in the tourist dollars that the NHL does? Does major junior hockey have enough of a draw to make a difference? It likely depends on how long the lockout drags on. And hockey fans may choose to spend their disposable income on something other than sports.
For hockey-staved fans, the answer might be as close as the neighbourhood rink. Sipping a double-double while sitting on a cold bench watching kids play amateur hockey might be a good reminder of where the game came from. And sadly, where it’s gone.