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The Blackhawks are back! But does it matter?

by Alex Wendland
Jan 16, 2013

Getting the fans back in the stands

The Blackhawks have said they'll be announcing fan incentives later in the week. Here are some of the other incentives from around the NHL:


  • The Pittsburgh Penguins are offering free concessions and half-priced merchandise at all team stores.
  • The Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers are inviting fans to open practices.
  • The Washington Capitals are running a "Fan Appreciation Week" including autographed gear, meet and greets with players and free tickets.
  • The Dallas Stars are giving away a free kid's ticket (12 and under) with the purchase of a full-price adult ticket.

The Blackhawks drop the first puck of the season in Los Angeles on Saturday. The team returns to Chicago to host the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday in the home opener.

Even though the NHL lockout is over, the damage is already done to some small businesses surrounding the United Center. In the big picture, however, experts say the economic effect on Chicago is miniscule or even nonexistent.

The damage to the service industry immediately surrounding the United Center is evident from the empty bars and deserted parking lots on what would have been Chicago Blackhawks game days. The larger question, however, is whether losing half of the normal Blackhawks season has hurt the city.

“We lost about 20 games,” said Sam Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Inn on Madison Street near the United Center. “We lost a lot of money. Not only us but a lot of people.”

Sianis emphasized the plight of cab drivers that depend on increased traffic from the NHL season to keep their meters running. As for his own restaurant, Sianis didn’t have an estimate of the financial hit but said many of his employees lost hours because there wasn’t any work to do.

“The staff normally works extra during the season,” Sianis said. “People would come in at 3 o’clock and stay till midnight. Now, they come in at 3 and leave at 6 o’clock.”

During the 2011-12 NHL season, jerseys for the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were the sixth and eighth best selling in the league, respectively, according to Sports Business Daily.

Josh Ganal, owner of Grandstand, a Chicago-centric team apparel store, echoed Sianis in saying that his Blackhawks business had suffered.

“It’s nowhere near where it normally would have been,” said Ganal of his jersey sales. “Now that it’s back, we’ve seen a decent uptick in sales.”

Grandstand’s planning mitigated the pain to its bottom line, however, because Ganal saw the lockout looming prior to the season. He cut his orders and Blackhawks jersey sales have outsold his lockout-adjusted expectations.

Ganal said he believes that Blackhawks fans will forgive the team for the lockout.

“If we get three or four wins in a row, it will be like nothing ever happened,” he said.

Allen Sanderson, a sports economist and professor at University of Chicago, says the Blackhawks franchise and businesses surrounding the United Center will receive some much-needed relief from the resumption of the season. For example, the Blackhawks lost an estimated $963,500 per game in ticket sales.

But from a macro economic perspective, the effect of the lockout was negligible, Sanderson said.

“In the Chicago area, the lockout and resumption of the season have zero impact,” said Sanderson. “Absolutely zero.”

The rub, according to Sanderson, is that people are going to spend their disposable income elsewhere. For example, if a family was going to spend its money going to a Blackhawks game, it likely spent it going to another event such as the Chicago Symphony or a Bulls game. In the end, discretionary spending around the Chicago area wasn’t changed by the NHL lockout.

“The NHL is small potatoes in this,” said Sanderson.