- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2005

DENVER — Inside a tiny sports apparel store on the 16th Street Mall are racks of jerseys, from the dark blue of the NFL’s Broncos to the golden tinge of the NBA’s Nuggets. Tucked in a back corner are the crimson jerseys of the Colorado Avalanche, largely forgotten in a lost NHL season.

Sales have gone cold since the hometown hockey team stopped playing, Sportsfan manager Chastity Cannon said. Overall business is down by one-fourth and holiday sales were off by half.

“Without hockey, it’s been just a horrible year,” she said. “I’ve noticed that a lot of the hard-core, die-hard fans continue to look, but when there’s no season, we don’t get the new merchandise they’re looking for.”

The dispute that has kept NHL players locked out for 134 days as of yesterday has meant millions of dollars in losses for stores, restaurants and businesses across North America that rely at least in part on a professional hockey team for their livelihood. Even if the season is saved, few expect a big rebound in business.

“It’s a disaster,” said Jim Root, the vice president of Gerry Cosby & Co., Inc., an apparel store that is steps away from Madison Square Garden in New York.

Root said that Rangers apparel sells better than the NBA’s Knicks, and hockey fans are much more loyal. The store’s business was down 40 percent before the holiday season, and the bottom line is getting worse.

“It’s probably now 50 percent off without Christmas being here for this month,” Root said.

Bob Phillips, a salesman for East Side Sporting Goods in suburban Detroit, said sales of Red Wings and other hockey apparel have been “dead.”

“I talked to a competitor and it’s the same thing,” Phillips said. “Obviously, if they’re not playing, they’re not selling.”

At a Sports Authority store in King of Prussia, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, Flyers fans aren’t out looking for hockey jerseys — not with the 76ers and the Super Bowl-bound Eagles holding everyone’s attention.

“I bet we haven’t sold a hockey shirt in two months,” store manager Joe Tarantino said. “They’re not playing. Why are you going to buy a shirt and wear it for nothing?”

The lockout has cost fans and businesses more than 700 of 1,230 regular-season games in 30 U.S. and Canadian cities. It has hit people like Troy Johnston, co-owner of Brauns Bar and Grill, a long slap shot from the Pepsi Center, home of the Avalanche. In a typical season, the restaurant is packed with 800 to 1,000 patrons on hockey nights.

Johnson has filled some of those nights with holiday parties and other events but crowds vary and he expects a six-figure drop in business by the end of what would have been the NHL season.

“We definitely rely on events that happen next door because you’ve got a large, captive audience,” he said. “Hockey is a good draw. It rivals the Broncos. … Well, not now.”

Root said Cosby’s would usually be open during and after Rangers games, so without hockey the store has lost five or six hours of business for each of the over 40 home contests.

“For Knicks games it usually takes us 20 minutes after the game ends before the crowd has dispersed,” Root said.

And for the Rangers?

“It would be an hour sometimes an hour and a half,” he added. “If you talk to individual arenas, Boston Garden for instance, I guarantee they do more Bruins than Celtics. Philadelphia, I guarantee they do more Flyers than Sixers. That’s just the way it’s always been with hockey fans.”

U.S. retail sales of NHL merchandise plunged by about 55 percent last year due to the lockout, said Neil Schwartz of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based SportScanInfo, which tracks weekly sales data from sporting goods stores, excluding team-owned and venue stores.

The four most popular NHL categories — jerseys, headwear, T-shirts and sweatshirts — totaled $64.4million in the calendar year 2004 — a sharp drop from $140million in 2003, he said.

While individual businesses are suffering, economic studies suggest the overall impact on NHL cities will be minimal.

“When people are not going to the arena in Denver, they’re spending their money at other entertainment venues, be it a restaurant or a bowling alley or a live theater or movie theater,” said economics professor Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College. “The main loss here is in the cultural or social sphere, it’s not in the economics sphere.”

NHL hockey typically generates about $750,000 in revenue per game, money that won’t necessarily be replaced because it is difficult to book major events into arenas on short notice, said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago sports consulting firm SportsCorp.

The longer the work stoppage, the longer it will take sales to recuperate, said Mike May of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

“One of the things that’s the key to sales of licensed sales products is visibility,” he said. “If the team is not visible, it’s out of sight, out of mind, out of pocket, out of luck,” he said.

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