By Chris Leyden, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON—Maryland sports bars and restaurants received bad news Thursday, with the NHL cancelling the first two weeks of the season and setting up a situation that could leave the venues' revenues high and dry.
While lockouts usually spawn sympathy for the players, fans should save some good feelings for their favorite watering holes. The Washington Capitals are a major draw in the region for bars and restaurants, and with each missed game, a significant amount of revenue never comes in the door.
The pubs and grills' saving grace may be the success of other teams -- the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens and, to an extent, Washington Redskins -- whose hungry and thirsty fans will help offset some of the lost revenue.
"If I was going to pick the perfect time for there to be [a lockout], this would be it," said Matthew Snee, regional manager for operations for Union Jack's. "And it's because of the Nats, because of the O's, and honestly, because of the Redskins."
The Nationals and Orioles are both headed to the postseason, while rookie Robert Griffin III has turned the Redskins into one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, and the Ravens have not lost a home game since 2010.
Despite this, Snee did say that hockey has brought in more fans over a whole season than any other sport, with somewhere between 30-100 fans at each of the locations in Columbia, Bethesda and Ballston, Va., for most games.
At The Greene Turtle and Hard Times Cafe, which includes a Rockville location, the story is similar, with each averaging 500 Capitals fans throughout their system on any game night. However, this number does not include The Greene Turtle's Verizon Center location, where the revenue loss is much more serious.
"We would have a significant impact at our location in Washington, D.C," said Bob Barry, president and CEO of The Greene Turtle.
While the rest of The Greene Turtle's 26 Baltimore-Washington locations would lose around $25,000 per game in combined revenue, Barry said, the Verizon Center location alone would lose considerably more: between $15,000 and $20,000 per game. A full-season NHL lockout would cost 20 percent of this location's yearly business, he said.
As much as the losses will hurt the company, Barry said, the employees at the Verizon Center location will hurt the most.
Although The Greene Turtle won't lay off employees due to the lockout, Barry said employees will lose around 20 percent of their hours.
Hard Times Cafe expects to see a significant loss of revenue as well. Caps games typically bring in $50,000-$60,000.
"It's a sizable amount of money not to have," said Hard Times' vice president of development, Doug Welsh. "When you are talking about fifty, sixty, seventy thousand dollars revenue on one night, times 82 games, it becomes a very large number quickly."
There is a bit of a bright side to the lockout.
Dennis Coates, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said that while restaurants that cater to sports fans may see a slight drop in revenue, that money will likely be redistributed to other businesses.
"It could impact that particular place negatively, but I think that impact is probably small," said Coates. "And the non-sports bar down the block may actually see better business."
Coates also said he believes that hockey's loss may be good for the Maryland suburbs, with Capitals fans from Maryland who usually spend their money in the District instead spending it around their home.
"It could be beneficial for the somewhat more distant restaurants and bars than if the game was actually played," said Coates.
The hockey season is especially crucial to sports bars and restaurants in the late winter months when football and baseball are out of season. Even during football season the NHL is still important, because it brings patrons in on weeknights, something the NFL does to a much lesser extent.
While these establishments can look to last year's National Basketball Association lockout as a precedent, one bar manager said comparing NHL fans to NBA fans is like "comparing apples and oranges."
"I think most bars will probably tell you the same thing that I am, NBA doesn't bring in a crowd," said Snee. "It's very hard to try to draw any kind of parallel."
Barry agreed, saying The Greene Turtle's lost revenue from missed hockey games will be, at minimum, double that of missed basketball games last season.
"We went through the NBA lockout last year, and tried to learn some lessons for what we could do for the NHL lockout this year. But there is a big difference between an NHL hockey fan versus a baseball fan or an NBA fan," said Barry.
"Hockey fans are very much like football fans, they're tailgaters. They come early. They enjoy themselves before, during and after the game, whereas a lot of the other sports, baseball, basketball, it's not that tailgater mentality."
Barry, who describes himself as a huge hockey fan, is optimistic the league and National Hockey League Players Association will come to an agreement soon.
"From a business standpoint it's killing me, and from a personal standpoint it's killing me."