That’s the feeling at sports bars in Victoria, where staff are celebrating the end to the National Hockey League lockout and preparing for an influx of cheering fans.
The tentative agreement between the players union and the NHL has businesses gearing up for longer hours, additional staff and extra revenue. That pact is expected to lead to a 48-game season and playoffs.
“For three and a half months, we’ve all been sitting here with bated breath waiting for [an agreement],” said Mike Joss, part-owner of the Podium Sports Grill on Yates Street. “Everyone’s super happy.”
Joss, who sports a Vancouver Canucks tattoo on his arm, figures that about $10,000 a week in revenue “didn’t walk through my door” during the lockout.
“Hockey is what we are all about in Canada,” Joss said Monday. “It’s something we all love. It makes atmosphere happen in my room and the staff are happier because they are busier.”
Joss estimates that he would have hired up to seven more employees if the season had started as usual. Now, Joss will be hiring and is looking forward to longer hours.
At the Strathcona Hotel on Douglas Street, co-owner Grant Olson said everyone’s happy. “It’s definitely a financial boost for us, especially to have the latter half of the [season] plus the playoffs. The playoffs are so more significant.””
If the entire season had been cancelled, Olson estimated it would have resulted in a $250,000 loss in revenue. He thinks about a third of that amount has been lost.
If the Canucks reach the playoffs, seats are filled. “People like to get into the fun of it, of cheering on the home team,” Olson said.
The Strathcona’s Sticky Wicket clubhouse area has 30 television screens, and the hotel’s nightclub has another 20 screens.
At the Shark Club, the mood is also upbeat. The announced agreement is “fantastic,” said service manager Shawn Harvey. Business has been slower than usual because of the lockout, even though customers got their fix with other sports, notably the National Football League. But when a hockey game is on, all 225 seats are full, Harvey said. “It’s a hockey town.”
Three or four more staff will be hired, he said.
Monkey Tree pub manager Cory Fletcher said pubs will be staging hockey-related promotions to attract customers.
At Jersey City in the Mayfair shopping centre, NHL clothing was moved to the front of the store on Sunday, said assistant manager Ryan McCanney. He’s assuming that once a deal is firmed up, “sales will pick up,” especially for popular Canucks gear.
At Boston Pizza on Hillside Avenue, owner-operator Mason McQuarrie is especially pleased that the deal appears to be nailed down when it matters most to businesses. “This is the time of year I would be more affected if the lockout continued.”
Boston Pizza’s sports bar is always full when playoff games are running, he said.
The return of the NHL may mean busier Saturday nights for sports bars, but corporate sponsors may be a little more hesitant than fans to return to the game, experts say.
Edgar Baum, director of Brand Finance in Canada, said some corporate sponsors will avoid the league, while it could take others 18 to 26 months before they come back to the NHL. And for those who do stay with the league and the various teams, Baum said they will look to make changes.
“They are going to have their sponsorship programs expire at the same time as the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA,” he said.
In October, Brand Finance estimated the brand value of the NHL and its teams was down nearly half a billion dollars at $1.15 billion. Baum said that figure will almost certainly head lower with the recent labour strife, even with the tentative labour deal.
Bruno Delorme, who teaches sports management at McGill University, said the league must work to reassure and hold on to the sponsors it already has before it can start working to add new ones.
“Perhaps we could see them offer them credit of some sort, additional publicity or visibility rights for the same price, maybe a refund of part of the sponsorship dollars,” he said.
What could save the league, both Baum and Delorme said, could be an exciting shortened season and playoff run. “Exciting races between teams that have good histories between each other, that’s the type of thing that is going to help a lot in terms of recovery,” Baum said.
— with files from Canadian Press
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