Faced with the prospect of a rare Steeler-free playoff season, the Penguins walking the picket line and the start of yet another likely-to-be-mediocre season by the Pirates still three months off, Pittsburgh-area sports fans had reason to feel grumpy as 2013 arrived.
But then the word came Sunday that the labor dispute that had kept the Penguins from taking the ice at Consol Energy Center had, at last, been resolved. After the new contract between the National Hockey League and the league’s players’ association is ratified, the Penguins will grab their sticks and start chasing the puck again in a shortened, 48-game season that will get underway sometime this month.
This is a win, of course, for the players and owners, whose tsunamis of revenue will roar forth once again. And insatiable fans will undoubtedly open their wallets to purchase tickets or tune in on TV, though it’s likely that more casual fans will have found other preoccupations or were turned off by the spectacle of one group of gazillionaires hunkered down in bargaining-table combat with another group of gazillionaires.
But perhaps the impact of the strike – and relief at its resolution - will be felt most acutely by those businesses that have relied on professional hockey to keep their cash registers ringing. Consol Energy Center has not been able to slot alternative events into its schedule, since most concert tours, circuses and other traveling entertainers plot their itineraries months in advance, leaving Pittsburgh’s arena largely been silent as the strike dragged on. The vendors there haven’t been selling beer or food, parking lot attendants have been cooling their heels at home and it’s been a lot easier to get tables at nearby restaurants.
The ripple effect of the strike has also been felt locally. In a story in the Observer-Reporter Tuesday, Curt Koman of KO Sports in Canonbsurg said he saw an appreciable decrease in the sale of Penguins and NHL merchandise throughout hockey’s hiatus.
This is the fourth strike the National Hockey League has experienced in the last 20 years. Whether any lessons were drawn from the latest debacle remains to be seen. But Penguins star Sidney Crosby said after leaving a practice session Tuesday at Southpointe that he was “just excited to play” and thousands of people surely share that sentiment.