This time last year, the Shark Club in downtown Vancouver would have been near standing-room-only on National Hockey League game nights.
The sports bar, just a short walk from Rogers Arena, is typically filled during the hockey season with jersey-clad Canucks fans – both those who watch the game there and those who trickle in from the arena after it’s over, drinking and eating until last call.
This year, however, the NHL lockout has made a marked difference. In efforts to compensate for a lack of games, the establishment has brought in live bands and introduced drink and food specials. Still, general manager Tim Murphy estimates sales at the Shark Club dropped a hefty 45 to 50 per cent in October and November.
“Thankfully, it’s Christmas, and there are parties and events going on here, but definitely we will need to see some kind of resolve here, because we don’t want to go into January and February with no hockey,” he said. “When there’s no hockey going on, there’s just no incentive for people to go out and spend. There are only so many UFC and boxing events we can carry here. We’re a sports bar, so without sports – it’s kind of a key component.”
The Shark Club’s hit mirrors those being taken by numerous businesses across Canada in the nation’s six NHL cities; the franchises in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa generate a total of around $750-million annually, according to a February, 2011, report by the Conference Board of Canada.
On Thursday, the NHL rejected the latest offer from the National Hockey League Players’ Association. With dwindling revenues and no resolution in sight, NHL city mayors are now calling for the two sides to come to a speedy resolution.
The appeal was first made by Ottawa city council, which approved a motion in October calling for Mayor Jim Watson to send a letter to both the executive director of the NHLPA and the commissioner of the NHL “highlighting the economic impact of this situation and urging them to reach a settlement.” The motion also called for Mr. Watson to write other NHL city mayors, encouraging them to do the same.
Next week, Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs will introduce a motion asking Mayor Gregor Robertson to pen a letter.
“The Canucks generate revenues in excess of $100-million annually, as well as spin-off benefits of a similar magnitude for the local economy,” reads the motion from Mr. Meggs. “The loss of the entire season by one of Vancouver’s leading professional sports teams would have a ripple effect on thousands of city residents, from employees of the Canucks, to food vendors and security and cleaning staff at Rogers Arena, as well as local sports bars, restaurants, hotels.”
The motion goes to council on Tuesday.
The lockout has had a “major impact” on the earnings of about 750 unionized workers at Rogers Arena, said Michelle Travis, research director at Unite Here Local 40. “It has slashed the number of days they can actually work at the arena,” she said.
While a variety of arena staff are impacted – suite attendants, bartenders, cashiers – Ms. Travis says behind-the-scenes workers such as cooks and dishwashers are taking the biggest hit of all.
“They tend to work a full-time schedule, before the games, during and after,” she said. “That’s had a major impact on their earnings. It’s pretty devastating. It’s really eliminated a big chunk of work for them.”
Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said consumers spend an average of about $50 on dining, shopping and transportation in a night out. He estimated each Canucks game brings in about $1-million during the regular hockey season, on top of ticket sales. “This is a pretty significant piece of the pie for us,” he said.