As the calendar inches closer to September and the NFL fails to resolve its labor dispute with the players, football fans may be stripped of their regular Sunday entertainment this fall.
For many fans, gone will be any excuse to avoid going to church because of conflicts with the kickoff times and hours will have to be spent doing other activities rather than managing their fantasy football teams.
But local small business owners have a bigger concern: their revenue streams. From restaurants and pubs to memorabilia shops to sports apparel stores, many Skokie businesses rely on heavy interest in the Chicago Bears--as well as other NFL teams--to boost sales during the fall and winter months.
“We’re very worried," Jason Caref, co-owner of Clark Street Sports, said about an extended offseason for the league and its fans.
Noting that "business for Bears merchandise is very slow” right now at the sports apparel shop, Caref added: “An extended offseason or a season in which there are no games, fans start to get upset with both the league and players, and it makes sales terrible.”
The NFL owners and players have been at an impasse since March when the old contract expired and a lockout was imposed. Last month, a 44-member group of elected officials and business owners filed a brief that supported the players as the owners appealed a federal court order to lift the lockout.
The Bears, along with the Cubs, are one of the best-selling teams for Clark Street Sports, which focuses on Chicago’s five major professional sports teams.
Most manufacturers have kept the store's orders on hold until the lockout is resolved--a move that has helped many small businesses stay afloat. But the Chicagoland company, with a store at Old Orchard Mall, says some suppliers aren't so sympathetic and want to be paid for their shipments.
Caref, who places apparel orders as far as a year in advance, said he ordered conservatively from companies where payment was required upfront.
The loss may be greater for sports bars and restaurants that depend on business from fans who want to watch their favorite teams in action outside the house.
“We have fans from almost all the teams that come in, and with fantasy football, people like to watch the different teams,” said Randy Miles, owner of the Village Inn. “It fills the bar and restaurant on a Sunday, no doubt.”
According to Miles, Sunday mornings and afternoons bring in more daytime revenue than any other day for the Village Inn during football season. With the Bears scheduled to play two Sunday night games and two Monday night games this season, the Village Inn is looking at a sizeable loss of potential revenue.
Miles hasn’t planned for any major substitutions on Sunday as he is still hoping the situation will be resolved in time as the regular season is scheduled to begin Sept. 8 with the New Orleans Saints visiting the Green Bay Packers.
“We haven’t gotten that far; we believe that it’s going to get settled,” Miles said. “There’s an incredible amount of money at stake from the small businesses all the way up to the stadiums and concessions. It affects just about everybody.”
For example, Maryland would lose at least $40 million in tax revenues if the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens were sidelined for the entire season, according to a study by the state's comptroller.
Owners and players recently met for two days in Massachusetts to continue talks over a new collective bargaining agreement. Sources told ESPN that the negotiations were “very fruitful” and future discussions will be held in hopes of ironing out a deal.
The main sticking point between the two sides has been how to divide the more than $7 billion in annual revenue between the league's 32 owners and its nearly 1,700 players as they seek to avoid repeating the consequences of the 1982 and 1987 strikes.