Jets weigh in on possible NHL lockout while local businesses brace for revenue drop
Published Friday, September 14, 2012 10:57AM CST
Hockey lovers in Winnipeg are bracing themselves for a possible NHL lockout that threatens to derail an entire season.
Thursday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held a news conference in New York and reminded hockey fans everywhere that if an agreement wasn’t made by midnight Saturday, the players would be locked out.
While the clock ticked away Friday, players said the likelihood of resolving the dispute quickly was slim.
“It’s really a cash grab by the owners to try and pay us less and make more money,” said Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd.
Those sentiments are familiar. In 2004, the NHL locked out its players as the league and the players association couldn’t come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The players remained locked out for an entire season.
“Going through this seven years ago – at the time you thought, ‘Okay, this is it. This is a one time thing.’ – and now we’re in the same square again,” said Jet Olli Jokinen.
In the time since the last lockout, NHL revenues have skyrocketed from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion.
Player salaries have also risen – by an average of about $1 million.
While the numbers are different, the central conflict preventing an agreement remains the same.
“Everybody wants to make more money,” said Jokinen. “The issues are the same. It’s about the money, not about the game.”
While the owners and players fight over their piece of the pie, local retailers and fans are worried about the impact a lockout will have on them.
Workers, business association worried about possible drop in revenue
It was just one year ago that Winnipeg saw pro-hockey return to its city. After 16 years of waiting, throngs of fans flooded the downtown area and infused it with cash.
Now, with the threat of a lockout, those who work in the area are concerned about where those dollars will go instead.
“I’m going to be worried about how much money I’m making,” said bartender Jarrett Petit.
Petit works downtown and said if the Jets aren’t playing at the MTS Centre this season, he may find it more difficult to pay his rent.
“When the Jets are here, the money is a lot better,” said Petit. “When they’re not, it’s slow and I’m fighting for hours with other bartenders.”
Petit isn’t alone in his concerns. The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce said a lockout would have a huge impact on downtown area businesses.
Jets games brought about 15,000 people downtown for every home game.
“Those people were paying for parking. Those people were going to restaurants. Those people were going to bars,” said Chuck Davidson of the Winnipeg Chamber of the Commerce. “Those people were spending money when they were going to games.”
And that money can’t be recovered by adding more concerts to the MTS Centre calendar.
Because the duration of the lockout would remain unknown, the venue can’t book anything on game days, even if it means the arena will sit empty.
In the meantime, players are standing firmly behind Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players Association.
“It’s important for us to stay positive and trust in our leadership and the system,” said Winnipeg Jet Mark Stuart. “Hopefully negotiations will continue and go well, and we’ll see what happens from there.”
-- with files from the Canadian Press