NHL Lockout Is Over! Guess Who’s Happier than Fans or Players?

All along during the NHL lockout, fans have felt like they've been held hostage by both sides of the negotiations. But that's nothing compared with businesses that rely on NHL game-day crowds — which have been laying off workers and facing bankruptcy

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After an annoying 113-day lockout, the NHL season appears to be saved. All along, hockey fans have felt like they’ve been held hostage by both sides of the negotiations. But that’s nothing compared with the businesses that rely heavily on the NHL, and that have been laying off workers and facing bankruptcy because of the lockout.

Early on Sunday morning, an agreement was reached to end the NHL lockout and begin organizing a shortened season for 2013. Per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, here’s part of the announcement:

‘We’ll get back to what we used to call business as usual as fast as we can,’ NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said at a joint news conference with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday. ‘Hopefully, within a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us.’

To which anyone who remotely enjoys hockey can say: Hallelujah!

There are still some details to iron out. Owners have to officially vote on the agreement on Wednesday, and it’s uncertain whether games would start on Jan. 15 or 19, and whether the shortened season would consist of 48 or 50 games. But for the most part, a deal is done, and that has left players and fans almost universally “excited.”

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“I am happy a deal has been reached and excited to get back to playing hockey,” Penguins star Sidney Crosby told ESPN via e-mail. Pain and hassles of negotiations aside, “you’re just excited to play hockey again and do what you really enjoy and have a passion for,” chimed in Phoenix Coyotes veteran Shane Doan. “It’s been such a long deal, and it’s been such a sad thing for the game,” the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Cullen told the Star-Tribune. “So to be able to put it behind and get a deal done and get back on the ice, I can’t tell you how excited I am.”

The one group that’s perhaps even more excited than hockey players is another bunch that largely relies on the NHL for its livelihood: owners and workers at bars, restaurants and sporting-goods stores that are located in close proximity to NHL arenas and that depend heavily on game-day crowds.

The city of Detroit, which everyone knows desperately needs as much business as possible, collectively lost out on roughly $1.9 million for each game cancelled, according to the Detroit News. The lost sales total is an estimate of all the money that would have been spent at restaurants, parking garages, hotels, bars and more had all the season’s games been played. Sports bars near the Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings play, have been suffering especially badly. The owner of Cobo Joe’s, which is a five-minute walk to the arena, says he’s down about $350,000 thanks to the lockout.

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Likewise, around Christmastime, the Boston Globe reported on how businesses near the TD Garden were hurting because no Bruins games were being played. Naturally, business has slumped at area bars, restaurants and parking lots — one garage, which normally takes in $1.6 million from Bruins games during the course of a full season, has rarely come close to being full. There’s also some indication that sales of team merchandise and memorabilia have been suffering across the country, and even that participation in youth hockey will be down because of the lockout. Kevin Kavanaugh, executive director of Massachusetts Hockey, told the Globe that the NHL represents a “huge marketing arm for youth hockey,” and that:

‘We will definitely feel the effect in registrations at the end of the year, especially in the younger age groups,’ Kavanaugh said. ‘We’d be naive to think there won’t be a decline, and that’s tough because they’re the building blocks for the future.’

Perhaps the decline will be smaller than expected now that the season is being salvaged. But will fans come back and be supportive of their teams from the get-go?

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Surely many will. Hockey fans are among the most passionate and loyal on the planet, and they tend to view players not as spoiled bazillionaires but tough, hardworking regular guys. In a store near the TD Garden, one young lady decked in a Bruins T-shirt and clinging to a faded Bruins-themed Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, had this to say of the lockout’s out, according to a newer Globe story:

‘It was better than Christmas morning,’ said [Laurel] Ryan. ‘I started freaking out. I didn’t know what to do.’

She woke her family to tell them the news and sent a joyful mass text to every number saved in her phone.

‘I’m wicked excited that hockey’s back,’ she said.

Well of course she is! Even so, some fans are bitter that the lockout dragged on for so long, and say that if they cheer on their teams, it’ll be begrudgingly. Here’s one example reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

On one fan page on the Wild’s website, a fan suggested a boycott of the Wild’s first home game to showcase the lingering anger, but then conceded that ‘the chances of that happening are pretty much zero’ because ‘we are sheep and will go where we are herded.’

That’s obviously not the same as being “wicked excited.” But hey, if the fans come back and spend their money as if the lockout never happened, the NHL — and the businesses that rely on pro hockey games — will happily take it.