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NFL Lockout Winners and Losers: Sports Bars, Spas, Beer and DIY

Bunny’s Sports Bar and Pizzeria in South Orange, N.J., missed out on much of the 2010 NFL season because of renovations, but reopened in time for the Super Bowl in January with 18 new large-screen TVs, all installed with football in mind.

Owner Leslie Pogany doesn’t even want to contemplate an NFL lockout.

“The NFL keeps us going through the winter,” says Pogany, whose family has owned Bunny’s for 86 years and survived the Major League Baseball strike in 1994 mostly because of football.

“People wait all year for football season. It would be terrible for the whole industry. It would be like the baseball strike — fans suffer, businesses suffer. We’re hoping cooler heads will prevail.”

Lots of fans and business owners are hoping the same thing — from those who work in the stadiums to nearby hotels, bars, and restaurants, to city officials who have spent big bucks keeping teams and helping them build their stadiums.

While the NFL Players Association cites a study that says a lockout would cost host cities $160 million each for the season, economists say the study is exaggerated and that most of the money that now pours into the stadiums will find its way to other entertainment venues or retail businesses.

“It could be bowling or movies or opera or live theater,” says Andrew Zimbalist, professor of sports economics at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. “Most people have a leisure budget, and if they don’t spend $400 to go to a football game they will have $400 to go toward other activities. They’re going to spend that money at some point,” he said.

The Crescent Court Spa in Dallas could be one beneficiary of that extra money. It has a steady Sunday clientele of non-football fans.

“We get a lot of women who come in regularly at game time,” said Rebecca Morrison, director of communications.

“They see it as kind of their recharge time. I don’t think we’ll see that change just because there’s no football. But maybe we could lure their husbands or boyfriends here, too. Relaxation is good for everyone.”

"The NFL is the only game in town, really. Right now, I’ve got soccer playing. It’s just not the same." -Owner, Bunny’s Sports Bar and Pizzeria, South Orange, N.J., Leslie Pogany

One economist says the impact of a lockout would be felt primarily by people who are closely tied to the NFL. Most professional football stadiums, such as the Meadowlands in New Jersey or Cowboys Stadium in Texas, were built as “economic islands” in order to capture most of the money that comes in on game day, says John Vrooman, a sports economics professor at Vanderbilt University.

“The bad news is we’ve probably given them too much public money to build those stadiums,” Vrooman said.

“The good news is that an owner like Jerry Jones will be the guy who feels the impact the most and pays the price for that. Maybe that will bring him to the bargaining table.”

However, Vrooman said, others with businesses or jobs that rely greatly on the NFL will also feel the pain — as well as communities that use sales tax from game days to fund schools or community services.

“The people who will be the unfortunate casualties are those whose direct income comes from the stadium,” he said. “It may not be a lot, but it’s a lot for them.”

Unlike stadiums, sports bars like Bunny's in New Jersey see increased business every game day, not just eight home games a year.

Michael Sinesky, owner of New York City’s Pourhouse and three other sports bars in the area, wrote in the Huffington Post in February that a lockout would be a “knockout punch for many small businesses like mine.”

“There are thousands of other sports bar owners waiting breathlessly for an NFL agreement to be made, as our livelihood hinges on this decision,” he wrote.

Bigger companies might also feel it but aren’t trying to venture a guess as to how — and are reluctant to discuss it.

Gregg Billmeyer, Vice President of Premium Lights at Anheuser-Busch, which produces Bud Light, the NFL’s official beer, said they’re watching the talks with interest.

“Like everyone else, we are optimistic the NFL and NFLPA can reach an agreement,” he said. “The status of those negotiations doesn’t affect how we’re planning for Bud Light’s sponsorship of the league. In the unlikely case it’s needed, we would reinvest those dollars to reach Bud Light consumers in other relevant ways.”

And the folks at Home Depot — presumably a popular venue for bored husbands with no professional football to watch — say it's too early to think about how a lockout might affect the business.

"Our demographic is 50-50 split down the middle between men and women," said Jean Niemi, Home Depot's director of public relations. "It's hard to speculate one way or another."

But back at Bunny's in New Jersey — and bars like it around the nation — the stakes are high.

“People enjoy it, we’ve got rival fans sitting next to each other, having fun, taunting each other,” Bunny’s owner Pogany said. “Every day that the NFL is on, especially Sunday, is very big. The NFL is the only game in town, really. Right now, I’ve got soccer playing. It’s just not the same.”