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Who's really being hurt by the 2012 NHL lockout?

As the NHL and its players continue to engage in their boardroom bickering, the real victims of this lockout are being lost in the posturing, debates and Tweets. No matter how much the fans want to think they’re the ones suffering, it’s the arena workers, restaurant employees and business owners that are really hurting.

Diego's one hour before what would have been puck drop at the Frozen Fury 2012 (MGM Grand, Las Vegas)
Diego's one hour before what would have been puck drop at the Frozen Fury 2012 (MGM Grand, Las Vegas)

With every game scratched off the schedule, hard-working people are losing money that is essential to their survival.

Vance Lent, a cameraman for the Ducks, relies on the money he makes during the hockey season to carry him through the year. “When I work there, I make really good money," he said. This season, he planned on using the money to help him reduce his debt and get into a place of his own. "Now it's kind of pushed back indefinitely." While he waits for the season to resume, he gets as many jobs as he can. "I am working other non-Ducks events like the Lakers and concerts, but if there's no game, there's no work."

Another arena employee, Jack*, is struggling to pay for the care of his autistic son. Jack operates the lighting system in a prominent arena, and he’s being put in a challenging situation. Lighting design is a tight industry, and jobs that pay the kind of money he's earned in the past just aren't available very often. There are too many people who will do it for less, so he either cuts his income or goes without work.

Probably the largest, singular loss hits the restaurants that surround NHL arenas. Pre- and post-game crowds are an integral part of the success of many of those businesses. Moreover, the workers themselves rely on the substantial revenue garnered during the season. Sadly, the lockout forces reductions across the board: staff is let go, hours are limited, and tips—essential to the income of a service industry employee—dry up. Based on a random survey of restaurants near various arenas, business has dropped, on average, more than 25% due to the stoppage in NHL play. Cesar, a bartender at Diego's—a restaurant in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, located just yards from the arena entrance—was quite upfront about how the lockout was affecting him and his co-workers. "(The Frozen Fury) is a huge weekend for us. The loss of money, of tips? I can't even tell you how much it will hurt." Even if the season resumes, these are losses that simply cannot be recouped.

The amount of money Detroit, Michigan, lost with the cancellation of the Winter Classic is hard to quantify. According to CBC Sports, the league planned to rent out the stadium at the University of Michigan for $3 million dollars. Cancelling the contract only cost the league $100,000, yet the university was out $2.9 million. Michael O'Callaghan of the Detroit Convention and Visitor's Bureau said, "For the (Detroit) community, (the loss was) between $50 and $60 million." For a city that is already struggling, that's a tremendous blow to the economy.

The most disturbing stories, though, come from the small businesses that face bankruptcy because of the lockout. In the midst of the 2004-2005 lockout, a local sports memorabilia store in Denver shut its doors forever because business dropped off so badly. Much of the owner’s merchandise focused around the Avalanche, and the lost season meant lost customers. He wasn’t able to cover his liabilities with the meager business he generated, so he was forced to close up shop, letting go of not just his business, but his dream. The effect rippled through his personal life, damaging his finances and relationships.

Kevin Christensen, owner of MVP Sports Cards and Memorabilia in Lakewood, CO, admits he’s shifting his product away from hockey. "I have not ordered any new hockey memorabilia," he said. "I don't plan on it. I also will not do any autograph signings right now because I don't know what the feedback from a fan to a player might be. This time, the (lockout) has more people really frustrated." The longer the lockout continues, the more he’s investing in products that cover the other professional sports teams in Denver. "I have already moved on from the NHL. I have never done that before."

It’s understandable that the players and owners of the National Hockey League want what is in their best interest. But the longer they continue this standoff, the more stress they put on the lives of those who support them in their endeavors in pro sports. Their single-minded focus on their wants directly increases the financial stress of others, and while we, as fans, are in jeopardy of losing a season of the sport we love, they—the arena workers, restaurant employees, and business owners—are in jeopardy of losing their livelihood and economic security. At some point, you would hope these men who make money off of a game might take a look around them and realize the damage they’re leaving in their wake. Today they have the opportunity to end the hardships their fight has caused. Many are counting on them to do so. Let’s hope that faith is not misplaced.

*name changed by request