“It is going to be really tough this year,” begins Heather, a single mother with two young sons. “I don’t think the lockout could have come at a worse time. Making ends meet has been difficult enough, and even thinking about Christmas,” she pauses, visibly saddened by the thought, “I don’t even want to think about that at this point.”
Heather’s apprehension surrounding this upcoming Christmas, which is marked by many as the National Basketball Association’s marquee calendar day, is due directly to the League’s current lockout. Her lamentation, however, is not related to the speculative lack of entertainment, but rather the loss of livelihood. Heather, currently a part-time concession stand worker at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, is one of many in the greater Philadelphia area, as well as throughout the country, who have been negatively impacted by the lack of League play.
A vast majority of the media coverage of this lockout has been dedicated to debates between owners and players, along with stories of how the League’s stars are spending their newfound free time. Don’t get me wrong, it is great that Kevin Durant has a found a fondness for flag football, or that Brandon Jennings is serving as an excellent intern for Under Armour; it is nice to see the players occupied outside of arguing with owners. However, such stories work to mask those most affected by the labor stoppage, which are not necessarily the well-paid players. While the players understandably receive the bulk of media attention, financially, they are not the only ones affected. The NBA tree of employment stretches far, and currently anyone under its shade is feeling squeezed.
The signs started this past summer, as thousands of employees League-wide began to be laid off. These weren’t players with strong financial foundations being pushed out either, but rather marketing consultants, ticket sellers, and concession stand attendants—a multitude of people who rely on the NBA as their main monetary source.
When the league is playing as planned, local attractions boom; businesses such as bars, restaurants, and hotels see a spike in sales; concession workers stay busy, as do taxi drivers and ticket scalpers. However, with the League locked out, the opposite occurs, leaving such employees looking for alternative options.
“I was lucky that I was able to stay on at all,” Heather states, referring to the fact that although the Sixers have not had a season, she was able to stay employed with the Wells Fargo Center, finding some hours with the Flyers. Others were not as lucky, as not everyone from the Sixers’ concession staff could be retained. Even with the additional hours from the Flyers, employees like Heather are only working half as much as they would be if the NBA season were in full-swing, forcing them to search for outside alternatives in a turbulent economy.
The “Cure Club,” a bar located inside the Wells Fargo Center, has been hit hard by the absence of the Association. “Now if there’s no Flyers game going on, it’s dead in here,” explains Josh, one of the Club’s bartenders, who has seen his income dwindle along with the hopes for an NBA season. “The Sixers would be an extra two or three nights a week where this place would be packed, or at least crowded, and over the course of each night I could easily make a hundred dollars,” continues Josh, illustrating the severity of the situation. “Now I only get about two Flyers games a week, which is just not enough.”
While Philadelphia’s economy will certainly take a hit without the semi-popular Sixers season, the area has sports-related alternatives for individuals like Heather and Josh, who have at least been able to find some form of work in the Wells Fargo Center. This is an advantage over lockout-struck cities with only one professional sports franchise. While Philadelphia fans still have the Flyers and Eagles to fall back on, which might be enough to keep the local bar and business scene afloat in and of itself, other cities will suffer serious economic issues if the lockout stretches season-long, as many expect it to.
Oklahoma City, Portland, Orlando, San Antonio, Utah, Sacramento, and Memphis are all single franchise locations which have had to eliminate dozens of employees, leaving those laid off from the lockout with a glaring lack of alternatives. The direct impact on such cities is an estimated million dollars for each game missed; a number that rapidly expands as additional aspects are added to it. While players, the smart ones at least, had the opportunity to prepare for this situation and stockpile some savings, most people who are directly impacted by this lockout did not have this same advantage, as they were not annually grossing millions of dollars, but rather just trying to make ends meet. “I did not know about the lockout or that I would be potentially losing work until sometime this summer,” explains Heather, capturing the lack of preparedness by many NBA and arena employees heading into this lengthy lockout.
“It has been tough on everyone,” explains Bill, a local basketball blogger, who has seen traffic on his site dip way down due to the lack of League news, aside from the tired lockout talk, illustrating yet another angle that has been impacted by the players’ inability to come to an agreement with the owners. With no new news to report or stories to develop, those who pen NBA-related pieces can be added to the list of individuals negatively impacted by this season’s stoppage, not to mention the millions involved in selling NBA merchandise.
The longer the lockout lasts, the direr the straits become for those dependant on the National Basketball Association for more than entertainment. “We want to get this done as quickly as possible. We know we are far from the only ones being affected,” stated Player Union President Derek Fisher early on in these unpleasant proceedings. While his sentiment is completely correct, the inability of the players and owners to come to an agreement in a reasonable time has rubbed many the wrong way, garnering the Players Union adjectives such as greedy, selfish, and self-centered.
While the players cannot be condemned for trying to secure the best deal for themselves, it is difficult to improve public opinion while so many helpless employees are being hurt financially while the owners and players bicker over billions. Eventually, the lockout will end and the majority of the players will bounce back, but in many cases the damage has already been done. While the media may have you believe that the real loss in the fact that the lockout may well stretch past Christmas is that fans won’t get to see Derrick Rose battle Kobe Bryant while enjoying their Holiday ham, others such as Heather are left to worry about where their kids’ Christmas presents are going to come from. So, while the lack of play may be an inconvenience to NBA enthusiasts, it has a much deeper significance to all of those who rely on the League for their livelihood; something that you can only hope is taken into account next time owners and players sit at the negotiating table.