Edmonton stores peddling NHL merchandise hit hard by lockout

Title: Edmonton stores peddling NHL merchandise hit hard by lockout
Date: December 7, 2012
Original Source: The Edmonton Journal
Synopsis: I am doing a short internship over the holidays at The Edmonton Journal. My latest piece was a feature on the impact of the NHL lockout on local merchandise retailers. This article appeared in the Dec. 7 edition of the Edmonton Journal.

EDMONTON – The hits haven’t stopped during the NHL lockout. They’ve simply moved from the corners of Rexall Place to the back corners of Edmonton retail stores.

A recent report by Moneris Solutions, a credit and debit card processor, highlighted spending decreases near NHL arenas in Canada, especially in the restaurant industry.

What the report didn’t address, however, was the impact on NHL merchandise retailers, a group who are feeling the impact no matter how close they are to actual arenas.

Jersey City has four Edmonton locations and 20 more throughout B.C. and Alberta, but not even the heavy foot traffic for the Christmas season has been able to keep the West Edmonton Mall location in jolly spirits.

“Sales for NHL products are way down,” said Mark Breckenridge, the store manager. “We usually see a spike for home games, especially for Original Six and other popular teams like the Penguins.

“We don’t get that without games.”

The drop in sales has put Jersey City and Game On Sports, their across-the-mall competitor, in the proverbial penalty box, causing them to slash prices, tripping up margins and interfering with hours for part-time workers.

“It’s like it’s out of sight, out of mind,” said a Game On Sports assistant manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s been a budgetary nightmare.”

While larger chain retailers like Champs and Sport Chek have simply restructured store displays to promote non-NHL merchandise items, smaller, NHL-merchandise-only retailers don’t have that luxury. United Cycle has witnessed a shift in the hockey memorabilia market entirely.

“Memorabilia has been way down,” said Kelly Hodgson, United Cycle’s marketing, events and promotions co-ordinator. “Not only is there not much available, since the players aren’t around to sign, but there isn’t as much demand. The value also seems to have gone down.”

But the retailers aren’t as bitter as one may think. Hodgson understands the strife of the players and thinks that the people in Edmonton do as well, which is why the decline they’ve noticed has been with NHL gear, but not specifically Oilers gear.

“The Oilers haven’t been effected as much,” said Hodgson. “While the lockout frustrates us all, I think because we’re a blue-collar town, we understand it and we understand labour negotiations.”

It’s also not a case of sports spending being down across the board. A few weeks of missed NHL games isn’t enough to slow down participation rates in sport, and people aren’t going to put off buying a new stick for their recreational league just because Jordan Eberle isn’t using the latest Bauer model, displaying it in NHL games.

It might even be that less hockey to watch means more people are getting off the couch and becoming active in sport instead of being spectators.

United Cycle, for once, hasn’t noticed an appreciable drop-off in equipment and non-NHL apparel sales.

“There are other sports, and people still have money to spend,” said Hodgson. “They’re not just going to put it in their jeans and forget about it. It’ll go to other avenues.”

The retailers are eager for the NHL to get out of the board room and back to the ice. Reports from labour negotiations have to be taken with a grain of salt, but as talks between the NHL owners and the players union begin to get more positive in tone, retailers are “waiting by the phone,” said Hodgson.

“If I’m a sports fan, I’m a sports fan. I’m not going to take up knitting. We’ll still be here when they get back as Oilers fans. Now, whether that’s the same for fans of other teams …”

Breckenridge agrees, and his desire to see the NHL return to action is as much about being a fan as it is about revenue and profit.

“We want the NHL back,” Breckenridge said. “You can only channel surf so much.”

 

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