February 8, 2005 6:45 AM

So what do you do when your heroes are morons?

Hockey lockout is taking its toll: Businesses, employees, city struggling with lost income


Last week was a particularly rough one for NHL players. First they were ripped by IOC president Jacques Rogge for not embodying the Olympic ideal. Then a veteran player in the United Hockey League called Chris Chelios, Derian Hatcher and Kris Draper “hypocrites” for joining a league with a salary cap. Kevin Kerr, the all-time minor league goal-scoring leader, is correct. The salary cap clearly is not a moral absolute to these guys — who see nothing wrong with taking a minor leaguer’s job after making many millions in their capless careers.

Those of us who love the NHL are growing accustomed to finding other activities to devote our time and energies to. Yeah, I miss the NHL, but has it’s absence degraded the quality of my life? Not by a longshot. The players will survive, as will the owners. Hockey fans will find other diversions. (Box lacrosse, anyone?) While I can make light of the situation, though, there are people who are legitimately being hurt by the NHL lockout, and it’s not the people that you might think of initially.

Adding up how many megabucks millionaire players and billionaire owners haven’t been able to extract from fans is one thing. Tallying the toll the strike has had on everyday workers is another.

It took less than 20 minutes Friday afternoon to find a Joe Louis Arena worker who lost his house because he couldn’t keep up his mortgage payments. He says some of his coworkers are behind on their rent, too. But he is afraid to give his name, for fear of getting in trouble and losing the few events, like tonight’s MSU-UM hockey game, that he’s still able to work.

And if that equation is distressing, the league should multiply it by 1,000 or so, because that’s how many arena workers are on hand for each typical Red Wings game.

And — at least for now — there are 30 teams in the league.

In the midst of the pissing contest that owners and players are engaging in, it can be easy to lose sight of the real victims here. The people being hurt the most by the NHL lockout aren’t the owners are players. Sure, they’re being hit in their collective wallet, but you can bet that none of them are in any danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.

On top of this obvious tragedy, there are the thousands, even millions of dollars being lost by businesses dependent on the NHL- from bars and restaurants, to the company that manufactures hockey pucks, to local governments.

Fifty-three Red Wings games, including 26 home dates, have evaporated so far this season. And while there are no victories being logged, there are plenty of losses.

Former Comerica Bank Chief Economist David Littmann said in September that metro Detroit could lose up to $75 million in revenue if the season were canceled.

Melissa Armstrong, senior director of the research department of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said Friday a “conservative estimate” of the economic impact of that lost revenue — measuring how it would have generated other jobs and spending — is $153 million.

That hit is being felt from the city of Detroit to the businesses that depend on the Red Wings’ fan base, based on the lost salaries, gate receipts, concessions, parking and sponsorship revenue.

The City of Detroit itself stands to lose at least $10 million from a canceled season and already is nipping and tucking in response to lost games at Joe Louis Arena, and the Detroit City Council spent much of the day Friday trying to squeeze millions out of a budget that already has a bulging deficit.

Al Fields, Detroit’s deputy chief operating officer, said the city loses about $225,000 per game just in parking, concessions, ticket surcharges and People Mover rides.

When, or if, the NHL finally makes a return, they may eventually get most of the fans back. Eventually, every fan may return. Regardless, while fans, businesses, and government entities may eventually forgive what has taken place, something tells me that no one is about to forget. Who is going to replace the homes lost to foreclosure? Certainly the not the players or owners.

(For more on the NHL lockout, check out what Eric has to say.)

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on February 8, 2005 6:45 AM.

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