Lockout picking business owners' pockets

Originally Published: October 4, 2004
By Chris Stevenson | Special to ESPN.com

OTTAWA -- Brad Marsh cradled his cup of tea in his huge hands and put his elbows up on the bar. Two major-league baseball playoff games were on the big-screen TVs up on the wall behind the bar and bright sunlight spilled onto the floor through the windows.

Brad Marsh
Brad Marsh: "It's a bad time to own sports bars."
It's a quiet afternoon at his sports bar in the west end of Ottawa, one of two he owns. The other is at the Corel Centre and is now dark except on the nights when there is an event at the 18,500-capacity arena, which isn't often with the NHL lockout in full force.

Normally, Marsh would be gearing up for his busiest season. His Corel Centre location would be packed for a couple hours before an NHL game and for a few hours afterwards, especially after a Senators win, of which there have been many the last few years.

"It's a bad time to own sports bars," said the 46-year-old Marsh, a 15-year NHL veteran whose last season in the NHL was the Senators' first. He played for that 1992-93 team and settled in Ottawa when he retired with 1,086 NHL games to his credit.

He opened Marshy's BBQ and Grill, at what was then called the Palladium, in 1996 and opened this, his second location, last spring.

"As good as the World Cup (of Hockey) was for us a few weeks ago, it really illustrated how important hockey is, for us and for the Canadian psyche," he said. "Every bar in Canada that has a TV, its sales were up during the World Cup.

"Lives of the Lockout" will run periodically and profile people whose lives have been impacted by the NHL's work stoppage.
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"Take that and multiply 'X' number of bars in Canada times 80 and you get an idea of the impact the lockout is having," he continued. "Even when it's the Senators playing Columbus on a Tuesday night, we still have people in the bar. We get two, three, four games a night in here and multiply that by the number of days in a hockey season. The reality is there are no more nights like that coming."

Marsh estimated that 85 percent of his business is done in 60 days at the Corel Centre location. Looking at it that way, it's obvious the impact of the lockout on businesses like Marsh's is devastating.

The business generated by NHL games "takes us from the break-even point to making money," said Marsh. "I imagine a lot of businesses in the hospitality business who were just breaking even, without hockey, they'll be gone.

"If not for the people at the Corel Centre being so understanding, I could have lost my business. The people at Capital Sports and Entertainment (the company owned by Eugene Melnyk that controls the Senators and the Corel Centre) have been very good. We're both in the same boat, anxiously awaiting hockey coming back," he said.

In a study done by the Ottawa-Carleton Economic Development Corporation, which examined the economic impact of the Senators over the first 10 years of their existence in Ottawa, it was estimated the team was responsible for $1 billion of economic activity.

"Based on 50 games a year, the Senators generated about $2 million in economic activity a game," said Senators spokesman Phil Legault.

The economic impact of professional sports franchises is always a hot debate. Those who downplay the impact say if people don't spend the money on pro sports, they'll spend it on something else.

Brad Marsh
Marsh's Corel Centre bar does 85 percent of the business for both his bars on game nights. "The reality is there are no more nights like that coming."
"I think it's a slippery slope," said Marsh. "I talked to one guy the other day who has a suite (at the Corel Centre) and he said he will save $32,000 up to Christmas. That's a lot of extra money in his jeans. When they do come back, he's going to ask himself, 'Do I want to sign up again?' Maybe he uses some of that money for a trip to Florida or to go to Toronto to see some shows. I think the teams are relatively safe in Canada, most of the people will come back, but it's not the same in the U.S."

Marsh also noted the ripple effect the lockout will have.

"If there are 18,500 people in the Corel Centre, how many of them are using babysitters?" he asked. "Seven thousand of them? Those babysitters use that money to go to movies or buy purses ... I know because my daughter is one of them. I think there should be more talk about how (the lockout) affects so many people."

Many of Marsh's staff are part-timers and some have moved over to work at his second restaurant. But there won't be as many hours while the lockout continues.

Marsh gets frustrated when he talks about the situation.

He said it's time for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association executive director Bob Goodenow to step aside and let somebody else handle the negotiations.

"They've had 10 years to get a deal done and there's no deal," he said. "If there's talk they could start in January, then why couldn't they have started Oct. 1? It's just stupidity. What's so frustrating is it's solvable, but the two people in charge have drawn lines in the sand. One says, 'It'll never be this,' and the other one says, 'It'll never be that.' It's like a bad marriage. They are not acting in the best interests of hockey.

"The owners have to realize this is not a major sport and quit beating each other up," he added. "Nobody told that guy on Long Island to give Alexei Yashin $10 million a season. Didn't he do a reference check? I do a reference check on a cook who makes $7 an hour and if I hear anything bad, I don't hire him. The players have to take a step back and realize they've got it pretty good because I think you could get rid of four or five players on every roster and the game would be better."

Marsh takes another sip of his tea.

"It's just so frustrating," he said.

Chris Steveson of the Ottawa Sun is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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