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Boston businesses brace for prolonged NBA lockout

Posted by Jason Keith  October 5, 2011 06:00 AM

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The NBA lockout is a hot button topic right now, as both sides are negotiating on a new collective bargaining agreement. As with any negotiation, there’s a tremendous amount of banter. That is typical, until the witching hour comes, which appears to be now.  Small businesses in Boston near the TD Garden have to now be thinking, “how will this affect us?”

This week it was announced that the NBA preseason has been cancelled, and if no agreement is reached by Monday, regular season games are next. While optimism about a collective bargaining agreement between NBA players and owners abounds in some circles, others aren’t so sure.  What isn’t being talked about enough is the potential damage a prolonged lockout (or lost NBA season) would mean for small business owners that need professional sporting events to survive. 

Specifically here in Boston, there are hundreds of small businesses in the vicinity of the TD Garden, where the Boston Celtics host 42 home games a year, not including playoff games. With those games gone, Causeway Street and the surrounding areas will be quieter, causing many businesses to lose revenue. Restaurants and bars could be hit the hardest. 

It’s probably about a $40,000 to $60,000 hit for the season, at least,” said Brad Dalbeck, owner of the Legendary Restaurant Group, which operates Max and Dylan’s in City Square. “Anybody on the immediate streets of the Garden should be very worried.” 

Dalbeck went on to add, “There are a tremendous amount of people that walk from Charlestown right by us and also park in the lot right behind our restaurant. It is a captured audience that will have a big impact if the Celtics do not play. We get a large boost 90 minutes prior to the home games.”

And it’s not just the locations a stone’s throw from the TD Garden, other businesses rely on games to drive customers through the door as entertainment while having or dinner or drinks with friends.  On those really bad, cold and dark winter nights, it seems that those who are out are the fans. If the season is canceled, the winter nights will be slower than usual,” said Damien DiPaola, owner/chef of Vito’s Tavern in the North End. “A friend of mine who owns a bar near the Garden is in a panic. He counts on all Garden events. There is no way for them to make it up.

While local small businesses that rely on “sports traffic” may be worried, one thing they shouldn’t be is unprepared. Many small business owners are already thinking about promotions and events to help make up for the potential loss of Celtics fans. 

“Fortunately there will be hockey and football and of course college basketball,” DiPaola continued.  “One (idea) would be to promote the hell out of college games. Half price tacos and wings on weekday game nights. Another gimmick would be to show Sopranos reruns and serve Soprano's style food at special prices.”

Restaurants and bars won’t be the only ones affected.  Hotels, street vendors, taxis and even public transportation will all be adversely affected by an NBA shutdown. A Boston Globe story in July cited that 20% of the more than 18,000 fans attending each game come from outside the Boston metropolitan area, generating as much as $1 million for the city’s visitor industry. As an added example of the revenue sports events can generate, it was estimated that the Boston Bruins’ three Stanley Cup Finals games alone pumped as much as $15 million into the local economy.

Boston businesses have weathered storms like this before; an NHL lockout in 2004, MLB strike in 1994 and another NBA lockout in 1999.  Animosity towards the NBA owners and players is palpable.  But what’s most important is that small businesses across the state that rely on sports fans as customers start preparing now. There’s no telling when the season will start, if at all.    

Do you own a small business that will be affected by the NBA lockout? How are you planning for a potential lost season? How would other small business owners deal with this issue?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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