No Basketball Means Big Problems



Construction continues on Madison Square Garden. Photo: Richard Drew, AP.

In New York, especially the area surrounding Madison Square Garden, basketball is big business. So when the National Basketball Association shuts down operations because of a labor dispute, businesses that rely on the New York Knicks for revenue don’t want to hear about billionaires fighting with millionaires.

In the Midtown neighborhood near the Garden, businesses were running low on patience last week, as the NBA lockout entered its fourth month and forced the cancellation of the entire preseason.

“I can’t even describe how horrible and empty this place will get if there is no basketball,” said Bernard Murtagh, a bartender at the Tir Na Nog Irish Pub, located right across the street from the Garden at 5 Penn Plaza. Murtagh’s bar is just one of the dozens of restaurants and bars in the area, and since the Knicks bring in big business, the bottom lines of those businesses are hurting. The vicinity around the Garden is full of  bars with the same setup: multiple flat-panel high-definition televisions locked into ESPN when there isn’t an actual game being shown.

“It sucks, flat out and point blank,” said Joe Kelly, owner of the Tempest Bar at 407 Eighth Ave. “No matter how bad the team is, people spend money when they are playing. It’s just not my bar, it’s the entire neighborhood that is suffering.”

Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks since 1946, in its current location for the past 43 years, has been closed since the end of the last basketball season because of ongoing construction that is intended to enhance the experience of those who attend the its almost 320 events every year.

When asked if he and other co-workers worried about going out of business, or about their job security, Murtagh said no. “For every home game, we are packed. I mean, there is hockey, but there is nothing like the basketball season,” he said. “There are not even concerts over there, so it’s just going to be a grind until they get this thing fixed.”

Businesses aren’t the only ones affected by the lockout. Without basketball, fans have less reason to stop in the bars for food and spirits. Knicks fan Robert McNair says he attends about 10 games every season, but finds different sports bars to catch the rest of the games.

“I could just spend the time at home watching the game, but there is nothing like seeing it live or with a bar full of Knicks’ faithful,” McNair said. “It will affect me because I love basketball, and I need my games. The owners and players just need to get their crap together, honestly.”

The Knicks bring in almost $1 million in revenue from each of their 41 home games a year. The Knicks are also the highest-valued NBA franchise, according to Forbes Magazine, with a value of $655 million. That amount involves operating revenue and brand management figures.

“Are you telling me they can’t put that money back in the community? I don’t believe it. We want a piece of the pie as well,” said Murtagh,when told of the Knicks value. Business owners depend on the simple trickle-down benefits; no basketball means fewer customers will come in and spend money. Kelly said that he expects profits to dip anywhere from 20 to 30 percent if regular-season games are cancelled.

Merchandisers will suffer as well. The Knicks rank eighth in team jersey sales tracked by the NBA. New York-based Foot Locker, a tennis shoe and athletic clothing apparel store, declined to give sales figures or comment when asked about how the company’s Times Square store would be affected.

The NBA owners locked out the players on July 1 and told teams not to hold training camps for the immediate future. “We have regretfully reached the point on the calendar where we are not able to open training camps on time and need to cancel the first week of preseason games,” Adam Silver, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, said in a emailed statement. “We will make further decisions as warranted.”

A spokesman for Madison Square Garden did not respond to repeated voice messages.