Return of NHL hockey a bonus to Victoria-area pubs

The lack of pro games on TV has varied effect on local pubs

Norman Wilson

No National Hockey League games on TV? You might think Greater Victoria sports bars have been crying the blues.

But as they prepare to welcome back fans of the Canucks, Habs, Flames and other NHL teams, the fact they aren’t sorely hurting is a testament to the resiliency of local operators. That, and the fact many establishments don’t expect to see larger crowds for games on TV until closer to playoff time.

Nonetheless, last weekend’s announcement that a deal was reached that would end the 113-day lockout is a good tonic for the traditional post-New Year’s doldrums.

“Because of football and other specials we had on, we’ve been continuously hiring. But January is a slower month,” said Candace Norris, general manager of the Shark Club Sports Bar and Grill on Douglas Street.

“Having hockey come back now is probably the best time it could have come back.”

Details are still being hammered out, but word is the league is preparing for a 48-game season to start Saturday, Jan. 19 – with the potential for some major regional rivals to meet opening night. That could see this region’s most-watched team, the Vancouver Canucks, take on Calgary, for example.

“There’s a lot of talk about people boycotting, but I think people will come back pretty quick,” Norris said.

Maude Hunter’s Pub on Shelbourne Street, not far from both the University of Victoria and Camosun College, thrives at this time of year, when students return for another semester.

And manager Norm Wilson said the lockout “didn’t really affect us whatsoever.”

“I think people are going to go out no matter what (if they have money). Where we would have really felt it would be more in playoff time,” he said.

Even if the lockout’s effects have been minimal, Wilson admitted there’ll likely be a few extra patrons sticking around on game nights.

While the effects on Vancouver’s hospitality industry have been significant, Darren Cross, manager of the Station House Pub in Langford, said the Island has felt a trickle down effect.

“The industry is roughly down 20 per cent,” he said, qualifying that the drop is not entirely due to the absence of hockey on TV.

Cross estimates that business might have been 10 per cent higher on a night where the Canucks or Montreal were playing the 7 p.m. Saturday game.

At the Strathcona Hotel in downtown Victoria, which counts dozens of screens in its various bars, co-owner Grant Olson estimates bigger losses relating to the hockey lockout.

“I was saying the other day that the overall impact (to us) might be $250,000 or even $300,000 in revenue if you lose the whole season and playoffs,” he said.

“We might have lost a third of that at this point. The fact they can do a 48-game season and we still get the playoffs, that’s kind of the better chunk of the pie to get.”

Where the hotel’s bars have noticed the biggest difference is in the absence of hockey fans who might stick around to watch the last period of a late game and order a little more, he said.

Olson, a hockey fan himself, said people are generally excited about the return of the NHL.

“The hockey fans are hockey fans,” he said. “These winters are long and cold and hockey provides good entertainment, whether your team’s Detroit or Vancouver.”

All the pubs the News spoke to were planning special events to coincide with the opening night.

It may just be like the playoffs coming early.

editor@vicnews.com

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