ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Honda Center was not supposed to be quiet today.
Right about now, the Buffalo Sabres should be finishing their pre-game skate and getting set to face off against the Anaheim Ducks. This scribe traveled cross-country from Buffalo for a vacation and was going to go.
That would have four tickets, four drinks, four hot dogs and some popcorn purchased with money from New York state. That money would have paid the ticket-taker from Pasadena, hot dog vendor from Palisades and PA announcer from Los Angeles. Taxes from those purchases would have gone into the state coffers in Sacramento.
Hockey markets across North America are experiencing such pains as the NHL lockout passes the 60-day mark. Places such as Anaheim probably don't feel the pain as much since people (including this one) would come visit regardless of whether there is a hockey game to attend. But in downtowns such as Buffalo's where the majority of a week's take could come from a single game night, every missed home game is a missed opportunity to make rent.
"Buffalo is a hockey town," said Tim Wiles, owner of the Swannie House near the First Niagara Center. "Sabres games kept our bar and restaurant lively through the cold winter months, when many people don’t want to come out. Whether there are 500 people at the bar or 5, we need to make sure that we keep the lights on and make payroll."
Same goes for Detroit, where not even World Series games last month could keep people downtown for a full day. And Pittsburgh, a city that's lost half its population. Cities such as these and Columbus will never be mistaken for tourist destinations, so the people who are drawn in for hockey games represent revenue that will be sorely missed. Magnify that effect in Canadian cities, to where even more fans likely travel to follow their favorite teams on the road, and even more fans make their way to nearby bars on game night.
These bars should be hoping at least a couple nights a week. These arenas should have jersey-clad fans filing in to get some snacks and their seats. These parking lots should be frustrating commuters who can't wait to get inside.
The New York State Comptroller's Office said the Sabres contribute $65 million to the Western New York economy each year through taxes, concessions, advertising and spin-off business. Additional benefits are seen from restaurant/bar sales, hotel stays for visiting teams and fans, and other indirect factors. Each playoff game played in Buffalo adds an additional $2 million to the economy.
The Buffalo Convention and Visitor's Bureau said a good number of the 14 million visitors to Buffalo come thanks to the Sabres. And the Sabres routinely play to capacity, so there's plenty of out-of-town demand – particularly when the Maple Leafs come to Buffalo – helping keep the economy flowing.
The greater Los Angeles area will survive without the relatively few dollars this writer would have poured into the local economy today. But in places like Buffalo, every buck makes a difference. And with games canceled until at least November, those bucks are adding up quickly. The Sabres have already had 25 percent of their games canceled – money that can't be made up.
Hopefully the league and its players reach a deal to allow games to resume come Dec. 1. Or else the businesses forced to shut down will create a whole lot more silence.
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