The 2012-13 NHL lockout has local businesses hurting, turning to football, and changing their game.
The NHL season usually draws big crowds to sports bars where groups can root for their favourite teams while sipping on beers. Needless to say, it's a big money making time for bars—in a typical year anyway.
The lockout began in mid September following the expiration of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement. A new agreement between the owners of the league's franchise and the players' union could not be reached before the scheduled start of the season Oct. 11. As a result, 625 games have been cancelled, and few fans are heading out to spend their money at the bars.
"It's a huge loss for us," Shannon Mayer, a manager at Kal Sports Bar on 30th Avenue says.
She says football games are helping to fill the void, but when they finish, the bar will really start hurting.
"As soon as football's over, it'll be pretty rough for us," she says. Last year the bar was packed with hockey lovers, Mayer says, and profits reflected that.
"It's one of the only sports that draws such a crowd," she says. "It's the one thing that makes Canadians patriotic."
The under 20 World Championship games might have offered an alternative reason for patrons to head to the bar, except that they took place in Russia, and live footage has been played in the wee hours of the morning.
"All we can show are replays," Mayer says. "A few people come, but it's just not the same as watching it live."
Ian Gibson, the beverage manager at Sneakers Pub on 27th Street, has also noticed fewer sports fans coming out for a drink, but says it's not a new phenomenon.
"About a year ago we recognized that people were moving away from (watching) sports at the bar," Gibson says. Ideas were bounced around, and the pub decided to transition away from the sports element, and experiment with other forms of entertainment, like live music.
"We changed our business," Gibson says. He explains that the advent of home theatre systems has made the big screens at sports bars somewhat irrelevant. Combined with the new drinking and driving laws, Gibson new Sneakers had to up its game.
The pub now hosts a band every weekend, and Gibson says they try to bring a local flavour to the scene, constantly seeking out local bands.
"I'd be hard-pressed to get eight guys out for a hockey game, but it's easy to get 50-200 out for a good band."
While Gibson says the lockout hasn't really affected business, he does have an opinion on the issue, as any hockey fan would.
"Enough is enough," he says. "I'm sick of billionaires arguing with billionaires. The league has really over-thought its status."
"The truth is, nobody really cares, aside from a few grumblers."
A recent poll conducted by Abacus Data suggests Gibson's prognosis is dead-on.
The survey, which had 1,505 respondents, showed two-thirds of Canadians aren't paying much attention to the lockout and are indifferent to the outcome. When asked which side of the labour dispute they side with, over half said they sided with the players. Emotions were a bit more intense with the self-professed fans: 94% said they were disappointed, 69% were angry, and 63% reported they were sad.
But in Vernon, hockey isn't the only reason to go to the bar. A social atmosphere, dancing, and drinks among friends is often enough to attract patrons to pubs and keep the businesses chugging.
For some local hockey action, fans of the sport can always check out the Vernon Vipers online.