HP Pavilion will be dark Thursday night. And that means no throng of teal-wearing hockey fans streaming through downtown. Fewer Shark-tini drinks will be served at the Fairmont Hotel and not as many Shark-a-ritas ordered at Henry's Hi-Life, either.
The NHL lockout is about to become real in San Jose, and businesses that depend on rabid Sharks fans to boost profits are bracing for an unwelcome chill to their bottom lines now that hockey is on ice.
"I probably speak for downtown business owners when I say we'd love for them to settle and get the season under way," said Alison McKennon, general manager of Hotel De Anza. "You just see this flood of people downtown that you don't see on regular nights. There's a buzz in the air that's great for businesses."
Thursday was supposed to mark the first preseason game at the Shark Tank. Fans would park cars at downtown lots, eat at restaurants before the puck dropped and maybe stop off at a nightspot later. About 500 people who work at the arena on game nights also would be punching the clock.
Instead, downtown -- the heart of Sharks Territory -- won't have that standing-room-only feel.
Not surprisingly, the owners and players are stalemated over money as they try to divvy up $3.3 billion in annual revenues.
The owners say the players must accept a much smaller cut of the league's revenues to help franchises operating in the red. For instance, the Sharks' parent company claims to have lost $15 million last season despite selling out every game. The players union, while willing to accept a little less, counters that the owners could fix their problems with increased revenue-sharing among themselves.
Meanwhile the dispute has left fans, who make the 17,562-seat Shark Tank one of the league's loudest arenas, gnashing their teeth. So far, preseason games through Sunday have been canceled, and it appears increasingly unlikely that the regular season will begin as scheduled Oct. 11. The worst-case scenario is this will be a repeat of the 2004-05 labor impasse when the entire season was lost.
As the spat between rich players and even richer owners continues, the collateral damage is about to include people with much thinner wallets.
"We know it's going to be very tough on the bartenders and servers," said Sarah Duran, who works at the downtown Britannia Arms. "It's going to be a lot less hours for everyone. As a server, your income really is based on tips, so we all want a lot of business."
A sampling of restaurants and hotels near the Shark Tank indicated they already are scaling back. That doesn't surprise Scott Knies, the executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association, who said businesses typically get a 30 percent bump on game nights.
"Hockey can turn a good week into a great week when you have that wave of teal pouring down Santa Clara Street," Knies said. "So you bet we hope the billionaires and millionaires can come to an agreement."
For instance, over at the Poor House Bistro, owner Jay Meduri plans on having six fewer workers Thursday than he would have scheduled if the Sharks were playing.
"It's a situation where we're all kind of losing," Meduri said. "I think the average people are getting hurt more than the actual hockey players."
Roger Noll, a Stanford University professor emeritus and leading authority on sports economics, believes there will be a minor impact on tourism when people don't travel to San Jose to attend games. But while local fans won't be heading downtown, he said they likely will just spend their discretionary dollars elsewhere.
"Bars and restaurants near the arena suffer while businesses in other centers of entertainment do better," Noll wrote in an email.
That loss downtown could be huge. Dan Rascher, a University of San Francisco professor who conducted a 2008 economic impact study for the city, found that each Sharks game brings in $800,000 of spending outside the arena. Part of the reason, Rascher said, is only 28 percent of fans attending games live within the city limits.
"If you're a Sharks fan in Oakland, you're probably not coming down to San Jose if there are no games," said Rascher, who teaches sports economics and finance.
San Jose's coffers also will be affected, Rascher added. He found that each game generates an average $30,000 in sales and hotel occupancy taxes.
One positive, at least in the short term, is there are only four home games scheduled for October. The arena, which is billed as one of the country's busiest, has a full schedule of other events in October including concerts by Madonna, Carrie Underwood and Barbra Streisand as well as Disney on Ice in the coming weeks.
But Malcolm Bordelon, the executive vice president of business operations for Sharks Sports & Entertainment, acknowledges the frustration over the lockout.
"It's unfortunate this labor dispute has had a negative impact on the people who are so important to us," Bordelon said.
Sharks star Patrick Marleau said the players also are acutely aware that others are paying a financial price in the lockout.
"We know it's affecting everyone from restaurants to the blue coats," said Marleau, referring to the ushers at the Shark Tank. "I know when I'm driving to games, you see people all over downtown, heading to restaurants. They're all spending money that really can have a trickle-down effect throughout the community."
A settlement can't happen soon enough for Richie Aranda, general manager of Henry's Hi-Life, the bar and grill that's a long slap shot away from the Shark Tank. The lockout is why there are "a good six people" not on his payroll who normally would be right now.
"People are preparing for a long, long lockout," Aranda said. "They're bummed out that there's no hockey. It's sad because we've got a great team. Now we've just got to get them playing."
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.