Hockey Lockout Puts Local Businesses in the Penalty Box


View of MSG

Madison Square Garden, home to the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, is a driving force in the economy in the surrounding neighborhood.

The Flying Puck Hockey Bar, just a block and a half southeast of Madison Square Garden, is a vast, cavernous space with a tile floor and deep, rich mahogany wood lining the interior.  New York Rangers memorabilia hangs overhead and multiple flat-screen television sets on wall mounts crane their necks at customers, ready to entertain.

Jane Maryutina, 24, originally from the Siberian region of Russia, has been a waitress at the Flying Puck for the past year and a half, and now she’s worried.  If there’s no hockey to watch due to a continuing lockout, Maryutina wonders how many customers the bar will lose.

“[There’s a] huge difference.  This particular bar depends a lot on hockey and Madison Square Garden,” Maryutina said, “It’s a hockey bar, a lot of people come here for it.”  She said that the Flying Puck is even thinking about airing games from the KHL, a Russian hockey league, so that they can still cater to their customers’ appetite for the sport.

Maryutina has cause for concern.  Renovations have gotten in the way of Madison Square Garden’s operational abilities since Oct. of last year, and the recently-opened Barclays Center in Brooklyn poses another threat to the size and number of Madison Square Garden crowds.  Now the prospect of a season-long hockey lockout looms.

If the hockey lockout cancels the entire season, as it did in 2004-2005, Madison Square Garden will face an additional 35 empty nights.  The last lost hockey season ended up costing the NHL and players $3 billion, and the same issue of how to split revenues between players and owners is behind the current stalemate.  Settlements from the previous lockout expired in September, and now a potential $3.3 billion loss is at the heart of the rift.

Even establishments that don’t cater to a hockey fan base are worried.  Molly Sullivan, 23, a Boston area transplant who has worked at nearby Harrington’s Bar and Grill for just over a year, feels that some type of action has to be taken soon to avoid having vacancies at Madison Square Garden.

“Of course it’s a sore subject around here,” said Sullivan, whose message to the league and players is clear. “Either figure it out or cancel the season so they can fill up the spots with concerts or whatever.”

Although Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden are not in direct competition with each other, Barclays Center adds a new dynamic to the equation of filling seats and generating revenue.   Each venue has its own home teams, with Madison Square Garden giving a home to both the Knicks and Rangers, while Barclays hosts the Brooklyn Nets, recently relocated from New Jersey, and, beginning in 2015, the New York Islanders hockey team.  Concert and event usage may become the battleground where the two arenas face off against each other.

During the 2012-2013 sports season, until the end of April, the Barclays Center is booked for 79 nights.  Of the nights the arena will be used, 10 are non-Brooklyn Nets events that fall on nights that Madison Square Garden is dark.

While Madison Square Garden has a reputation as an expensive venue to play at, with bands generating little revenue from the concerts, acts gain in prestige for having played the venue.  Facility use is cheaper at Barclay’s Center, with a sold-out show potentially generating $150,000-$250,000 more than at the Garden, according to a New York Times article last month.

As though the looming lockout and Barclays Center opening weren’t enough, local businesses have also endured renovations that began in 2011 and caused a summer-long closure this past year, beginning May 28.   According to Madison Square Garden’s renovation-related website, renovations will continue into 2014.

Joe Kennedy has been a manger at Tempest bar, directly across Eighth Avenue from the Madison Square Garden, for 20 years.  “Business sucks right now, they’ve been renovating all year,” Kennedy said in a subtle Irish accent. “This area’s only as good as what’s going on in the Garden.”

The official site for the New York Rangers makes no mention to the eight games that were supposed to be played since Oct. 12, all of them away games.  Dates, times, and venues for the 2012-2013 season are still on display for games from Nov. 1 onward, perhaps optimistically.  The page designed to display information about pre-season games is a blank field displaying only the team’s deep blue color and no other information, as if it’s an embarrassing subject they’d rather not speak about.

Meanwhile, Maryutina of Flying Puck Hockey Bar directs her frustration at both Madison Square Garden as well as the National Hockey League.

“In general it’s very frustrating. It’s heart breaking,” said Maryutina, her Russian accent becoming stronger and her deep blue eyes getting bigger as she became more distressed.  “I’m heartbroken.  The whole situation is pretty much disrespectful.  They think we’re fools.”