NBA lockout would have widespread economic impact on Salt Lake City businesses

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 11:35 p.m. MDT

Gateway Plaza in Salt Lake City, Utah, Tuesday, June 22, 2010.

Matt Gillis, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Jazz play a home game, Mike Katsanevas, whose family runs the Crown Burgers restaurant on North Temple, knows it’s going to be a busy night.

“From 5 p.m. to about 6:45, we get a major rush” just before the game tips off a block away at EnergySolutions Arena, he says. “It's tremendous business for us. We live for the Jazz season. That's our biggest time of the year.”

Ditto for many other businesses in the downtown area, where thousands of people converge on the city, and many come early on game night to eat, drink, shop and spend their money.

But that all comes to screeching halt if the NBA and the Players Union can’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, and soon. Some pre-season games have already been cancelled, and the regular season is threatened.

The impact on the court is one thing, but the economic effects off the court will ripple through every NBA city.

“It’s a big industry”, says Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake (formerly the Salt Lake Convention and Visitor’s Bureau). “Sports are a lot of fun, but professional sports are really a big economic engine.”

Especially with restaurants, from fast food to the high end. “Having worked in the restaurant industry for Gastronomy for four years, I can tell you that the restaurants will be affected by no Jazz season. It's a very important part of that business cycle,” Beck says. “And secondly, and it's certainly not lost on us that every time the NBA comes here to broadcast a game, they show our beautiful mountains, they show the destination, and that's a real extension of our brand.”

One of those involved in the TV side of the NBA is John Green, a self-employed technical director who lives in Salt Lake.

When visiting teams come to town, they usually hire local crews to handle the broadcasts back to the visiting team’s hometown fans. Although he works on all different types of sporting events, the  41 games at EnergySolutions Arena provide the majority of his annual income.

“But, those 41 games are not enough to last me the entire year,” Green says. “I treat every day as a piece of inventory, and if I'm not working on a day, that's inventory that I cannot make up.”

So if the NBA season is cancelled? "It's very huge,” he says.

Cancelled games will also nick the pocketbooks of the many part-time employees who work the games. Ushers, ticket takers, food service workers, hosts and hostesses in the luxury boxes won’t get paid. For some, these game night jobs are a way to earn some extra cash for vacations and such. For others, it helps to make ends meet.

Utah Jazz officials said the lockout prohibits anyone from the organization to comment on the situation.

At Crown Burgers, Katsanevas said in the past, the income resulting from Jazz games was “gravy.”

But "with the way the economy is going, it’s now a real necessity,” he says.

The trickle-down effect also hits his employees too. “It helps them, because they get extra hours, because we have to boost our crew to be able to handle that crowd.”

It’s hard to put an exact number on the economic loss if the Jazz season is cancelled. “Because the impact is so broad,” Beck says. ”It’s restaurants, it's parking revenue, it’s transportation revenues, it's taxi cab rides. It's all those things, TRAX and UTA tickets.” But it’ll be millions and millions in the NBA cities combined.

A lot of fingers are crossed.

“We're hopeful that these two sides come together and that we see an NBA season, because it's a real important part of our downtown economy,” Beck says.

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