NBA LOCKOUT WILL HAVE HUGE IMPACT ON CITIES
Harry Buffalo is one of the downtown restaurants in Cleveland that counts heavily on the beer-drinking, burger-devouring NBA crowd to keep its doors open. Operations manager John Adams has taped an internet report outside the kitchen for his waitresses, bartenders and cooks to read.
With yellow highlighter, he's shaded the grim news of the NBA labor impasse for his employees, some who might soon lose their jobs if there's no deal.
This is where the lockout hits home, and hits hardest.
"It's rough," Adams said, glancing toward The Q. "I've got three single moms on my wait staff and two single dads in the kitchen. I've got their 11 children to think about. It's painful when it's out of my control, when I have to put the business first and say I can't have 15 servers on staff because we don't have the business."
This week, the NBA canceled its preseason. Monday, Commissioner David Stern might wipe out the first two weeks of the regular season if his millionaire players and even wealthier owners can't agree on how to split revenue and cap salaries.
Sure, players are temporarily out of work and will have to find ways to maintain their skills. But Kobe Bryant has the luxury of potentially signing with an Italian team to do that, earning a big salary until the labor unrest settles.
Others aren't as fortunate.
The loss of one game, let alone 10 or maybe all 82, will have a devastating impact on workers with jobs dependent on pro basketball's six-month-plus season. A few clubs have already trimmed their staffs and more layoffs could be forthcoming if the discussions drag on. Then there are those who don't work directly for an NBA club but who still depend on the excitement the league brings to town.
Ushers, security personnel, parking lot attendants, concession workers, restaurant employees and others all stand to have their hours cut or join the country's 14 million unemployed.
"Yeah, financially, I'm worried," said waitress Jeannette Lauersdorf, a single mother of two, who on a quiet Wednesday afternoon is serving six guests at three tables inside Harry Buffalo. On a night the Cavs are playing, the place has a 30-minute wait for a table. "We've got bills to pay."
Nerves, already frayed in a depressed economy, are unraveling.
As it was during the NFL's labor dispute, certain cities around the league will bear more of a burden than others until the NBA gets bouncing again.
Markets such as Orlando, Memphis, Salt Lake City and Portland, with no other income being generated by a major professional sports franchise, could be facing a long winter.
At this point, there's no telling how long the lockout will last, but NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver projected losses if the season's opening two weeks are canceled in "the millions of dollars."
"We've spent a lot of time with our teams walking through those scenarios of lost games," Silver said. "The damage is enormous, will be enormous."
While Cleveland might be undergoing a minor renaissance with new construction, including a downtown casino being built by a group headed by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, unemployment remains high. There's a thriving one-block strip of East Fourth Street, where upscale eateries lure guests no matter the time of year.
But closer to the Q, some bars and restaurants are still recovering from the financial aftershock caused by superstar LeBron James leaving.
When James was with the Cavs, the Gateway District crawled with fans, some who bought season tickets in 2009 for last season — under the assumption their favorite player would stay in Cleveland. But now that he's in Miami with the Heat, and the Cavs are no longer a title contender, fans aren't flocking downtown.
"Even if there is a season, I think we're going to take a hit," said Caitlin Cassidy, manager at Harry Buffalo. "People love the Cavs, but they love the Cavs more when they're winning. Even last year, people who had season tickets didn't come all the time. Cleveland fans are a special breed. They come down and watch the Cavs and drink beer and hang out, but it's definitely not been the same without LeBron."
Memphis could experience a similar dropoff if the lockout deepens.
A young team on the upswing, the Grizzlies captivated the city last spring with its playoff run. Fans poured out of sold-out FedEx Forum and into the Beale Street entertainment area to toast each postseason win, and there's hope similar celebrations will take place this April, May — and maybe into June.
The club reports season-ticket sales are up. But tickets have no value without a season.
"We have a franchise we feel is locked and loaded to be very competitive for the next four, five, six years barring injuries," said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We've got a product the city's really excited about, the city's engaged with."
Orlando's situation is different.
In February, the Magic are slated to host NBA All-Star Weekend, an international event projected to bring $100 million to the city. But the lockout's uncertain endgame is delaying plans from being finalized, and already local businesses are scrambling to help offset losses if more games are canceled at year-old Amway Arena.
Owners of upscale Draft Global Beer Lounge and Grill, which opened across from Amway in March, fear it could be a tough season ahead.
"The economic impact would be detrimental," co-owner Willie Fisher said. "This location is one of the main reasons we chose this location."
During the winter, Utah fans eat up the Jazz and Crown Burgers.
From the parking lot of his restaurant, Mike Katsanevas can see the edge of EnergySolutions Arena, home of the Jazz. Katsanevas, whose family has been selling burgers, including one crowned with pastrami, for three decades, estimates a lost NBA season would offset his business by 25-30%— and not just this season.
Katsanevas predicts fans won't renew their season tickets.
He survived the last work stoppage in 1999, but times are different.
"People were upset and had a right to be. Everybody needs to be paid for their jobs," he said. "But how much money do you need to make? Let's be honest here. Everybody else is suffering (in this economy). I don't want to bad-mouth players or the owners, but how much money do these guys really need to keep making?"
Cassidy said while the vibe around Harry Buffalo's staff is upbeat and hopeful that the lockout will be lifted, several employees are making plans just in case. A few of her waitresses have picked up shifts elsewhere, and she's being honest with any new applicants who come through the door.
In days and weeks ahead, the staff might shrink.
"It's scary for us, too," she said. "Because who is going to want to work here if there's no customers? I always tell applicants that the good times always make up for the bad times. Now, there may not be any good times."