It is officially autumn in Canada—temperatures are dropping, students are back in the classroom, and leaves begin fluttering to the ground. Everything is in place, yet something seems missing…
Oh yes, the only hockey on TV are re-runs of the 1972 Summit Series!
It is week three of the National Hockey League lockout, and prospects of the puck dropping in time for the first regular season games next week have not improved with stalemate. In fact, the deadlock in negotiations between the NHL and its players’ association has sent several all-stars to pack their bags for other leagues.
Even if a Collective Bargaining Agreement is soon met, the league will be missing some of its most talented players for the entire season. Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Pavel Datsyuk have returned to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League. Former Olympic teammates Rick Nash and Joe Thornton inked deals with HC Davos of the Swiss National League.
Many of Nanaimo’s pubs are looking for other ways to draw crowds should the lockout delay the start of the season. Harewood Arms Pub co-owner Bill Dempsey says the pub will be showing more football in the near future.
“We’re starting to push football now,” Dempsey says. “We show CFL for the big BC Lions fans, and Monday Night Football as well.”
The pub boasts seven big-screen televisions and a lower-level private area where football fans can gather in larger groups. Tuesdays are Student Day at Harewood Arms, when students are offered free pool games and discounts on drinks and meals.
The Foundry Pub is also catering more to football fans as hopes for an NHL season begin to fade. Still, assistant manager Ashley Lines is more than willing to switch the televisions to whatever game her customers want to see.
“[We show] a bit of everything,” Lines says. “We put the TV’s on whatever [patrons] want to watch. If they want to watch baseball, we’ll put it on that, or we’ll switch the audio for those who ask.”
Marty Morelli, owner of the Quarterway Pub, explains it is not as simple to promote football as hockey games. Many Nanaimoites are Vancouver Canucks fans, making it easier for The Quarterway Pub to attract patrons and run promotions.
“We are a Canucks bar,” Morelli says. “It is difficult with football as everyone has their own [NFL] team. In the [CFL] playoffs we get busy with BC Lions fans.”
While pubs are trying to strategize around the lockout, all agree there will be a noticeable effect on business should a significant amount of the season be lost. The Canucks play 82 games a season, each night bringing a crowd of fans.
“Absolutely,” says Lines on whether she anticipates The Foundry seeing a decrease in business without the regular hockey fans.
“I notice it when the Canucks are knocked out of the playoffs. From when they made it to game 7 of the finals [two seasons ago] to last year when they were knocked out in the first round, there was a huge decline,” says Lines.
She also remembers a dip in business during the 2004 lockout from when she worked at Montana’s restaurant.
Though Dempsey foresees a similar effect on business for the Harewood Arms, he recalls a less severe fallout from the previous lockout.
“It was actually busier,” Dempsey says of the lost 2004 season. “Most people stay at home to watch the game, so when there was no hockey, [fans] came to the pub for meals more often.”
Hockey fans still populating pubs around Nanaimo are less than confident a deal will be struck to save the entire NHL season.
“Most people are upset with the players,” says Dempsey, alluding to fans’ awareness of the NHLPA receiving 57 percent of league revenue last season, while both the NFL and NBA recently agreed to a nearly 50/50 revenue split between players and owners.
Greg, a bartender at Harewood Arms, agreed but added that his customers are staying optimistic. “Everyone is hopeful. The general feeling is [the lockout] is a billionaires versus millions squabble.”
Lines said fans around The Foundry are “pessimistic” and see the CBA negotiations as a “money grab.” Kelly Bradbury, bartender at The Oxy Pub, said comments have been mostly negative.
Still, there is hope NHL hockey will return so the entire season is not lost. In either case, Nanaimo pubs will be doing their best to continue business as usual.
“I think [the season] will get going by January,” Morelli says. “It was interesting having a 50-game season after the 1994- 95 lockout and each team fighting for a playoff spot. We’ll fight through,” Morelli says.