Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jetcetera: Gear sits on shelf along with NHL

Negative impact already seen in stores

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A year ago, Winnipeg Jets fans were so enraptured with the team's merchandise, many retailers were selling it directly out of the boxes because they didn't have time to get it on the shelves.

What a difference a year -- and a lockout -- makes.

Today, much of that same merchandise is not only sitting on display racks, it's also collecting dust.

Jets fan Kevin Salmon is not alone. He said both the players and the NHL are overlooking those who shelled out the more than $3 billion the league brought in last year.

And until they settle their dispute, he's going to vote with his wallet.

"The fans buy the tickets, the fans buy the hotdogs and the fans buy the merchandise. We should do our part and not give them a single penny and not buy merchandise. That's what we can control," he said.

That sort of behaviour has forced stores such as Royal Sports to cut back on its staffing requirements from a year ago.

"With the threat of the lockout and all of the negativity (surrounding the contract negotiations), we've definitely noticed a decrease in the sale of Jets and other NHL merchandise," said owner Gerald Haasbeek.

He's not planning to lay off any staff but he's thankful customers are spending money on other items in his stores, such as new skates, hockey sticks and skateboards. NFL merchandise, particularly Peyton Manning's new No. 18 Denver Broncos jersey, is also helping to pick up the slack.

The fact remains hockey is a big part of the economy in Canada. If both sides fail to come to terms on a new contract and the entire 2012-13 season is lost, the Canadian economy stands to lose out on about 0.1 per cent of GDP, according to Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at the Bank of Montreal.

The impact would be slightly greater in Winnipeg, where the Jets make up a bigger part of the local economy than the seven Canadian teams do for the country as a whole.

During the 2004-05 lockout, BMO figures show overall spending in restaurants and bars didn't change all that much but it did get shifted around. Establishments near the hockey arenas saw business fall off while their counterparts in the suburbs saw an increase in traffic.

The wild card, however, is the length of the lockout. If everything is settled in a few weeks, no harm, no foul, and interest will be rekindled quickly.

"If it drags beyond Christmas, we're talking about a very serious economic impact," Porter said.

John McCallum, a finance professor at the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, agrees.

The good news, however, is most people will find other places to spend their money and that should help keep the $60-billion Manitoba economy going.

"They'll go to a movie instead of going to a Jets game. That stimulates economic activity, too," he said.

And once the lockout has been settled, if the league compresses the schedule to make up for lost time, McCallum expects fans to strain their backs from repeatedly getting out their wallets.

"All of a sudden, you'll have huge spending to offset the no-spending that happened when the Jets weren't (playing)," he said.

Chuck Davidson, vice-president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said there's no question downtown businesses of all kinds will feel the pinch of not having 15,000 visit the central business district 41 times a year.

"They're not paying for parking and there won't be the restaurant and bar traffic that you've seen in the past," he said.

That will translate into reduced need for staff, meaning workers who might have had four or five shifts per week a year ago might have just two or three a week now.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 18, 2012 A2

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