It's not a complicated formula. Hockey + Bars = Thirsty Patrons.
Early numbers are in from last Saturday's return of the NHL, and business spiked at bars and restaurants across Canada as hockey-starved fans celebrated the end of the lockout with booze and food.
"For that first game, it was ridiculous. It was amazing," said Rob Turpin, general manager of The Score on Davie, a neighbourhood sports bar in in Vancouver's West End.
The bar quickly filled its 105 seats before the Canucks took on the Anaheim Ducks at Vancouver's Rogers Arena, and staff had to turn people away at the door. Sales were up 20 per cent to 30 per cent over a typical lockout Saturday, Mr. Turpin said.
The Score wasn't alone in feasting on hockey's return. Credit-card spending at bars and restaurants in major cities shot up nearly 9 per cent during a six-hour window before and during NHL games last Saturday, compared with the previous weekend, according to an analysis by Moneris Solutions Corp., which processes electronic transactions.
The largest gains were in Winnipeg and Vancouver bars, where credit card receipts jumped 34.5 per cent and 22.6 per cent respectively in spite of losses on the ice by the two cities' home teams.
Even in Toronto, which didn't have a home game, credit-card sales at bars were up 12.6 per cent. Sales were also up sharply in Montreal (15 per cent) and Calgary (14 per cent).
"Anyone who thought Canadians were going to stay away from hockey and enjoying the game, they were wrong," said Malcolm Fowler, vice-president of marketing at Moneris. "We'll see whether they come back full-strength to where they were before."
Based on Weekend One, the lockout is already a distant memory for businesses that depend on the game.
The absence of NHL hockey caused a drop in sales of roughly 11 per cent at bars and restaurants in Canadian NHL cities. Most of that has come back on the first game days, Mr. Fowler said. "Merchants will continue to reap the economic benefits of these games until the end of the season."
Restaurant sales also got a big hockey boost, with Vancouver and Winnipeg again leading the rebound with gains of 19.3 per cent and 10.4 per cent respectively.
"Winnipeg was the hardest hit and it's come back the hardest," Mr. Fowler said.
Even fast-food restaurants celebrated the end of the lockout, with sales up 8 per cent to 12 per cent in Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. In Montreal, however, fast-food sales fell during the game, by 5.2 per cent.