October 7, 2012

From NEHJ: Closed for business

By Jesse Connolly

It’s astonishing how often we all fail to realize just how oblivious we are. To highlight that point, allow me to paint a picture for you.

It’s opening night for the Boston Bruins and you’re passing through the turnstiles at TD Garden. You get your ticket scanned, pass through security and speedily climb the escalators. With a pregame snack from the concession stands in hand, you sift through the crowded concourse, find your section and take your seat.

As the Zamboni driver goes around for his final lap, the lights dim and a masterful montage begins to play on the Garden HDX screen, set to a booming, symphonic melody. But suddenly, with goaltender Tuukka Rask a step away from leading the team out onto the ice, the music stops, the lights come back on and a video message from Gary Bettman suddenly appears on screen, telling you and the rest of the 17,565 fans on hand that tonight’s game has been canceled and the NHL will be shutting down indefinitely.

Now comes the true test: Who did you think about this affecting first? If you said yourself, you’re not alone. There’s no doubt that hockey fans are getting hosed again, with the latest lockout robbing them of their favorite source of entertainment. But there’s one particular group that’s getting robbed of something much more important: the income they’re depending on to survive.

Nope, we’re not talking about the cast of talented players you came to see play. We’re talking about that usher who took your ticket, that security guard who ensured your safety, the guy at the concessions stand who poured your beer, the person who spent hours putting that opening montage together and another who made sure the entire pregame presentation went off without a hitch.

We never even really fathom just how many dedicated individuals it takes to make the Garden fully operational and put on a hockey game. Now consider this: For as long as the lockout drags on, every last one of them won’t have the opportunity to make money they could very well have been counting on to make ends meet.

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“I remember the last Bruins lockout a few years back when I didn’t have a full-time job. It made for an interesting six months in which I did all kinds of odd jobs to make ends meet, from pizza delivery to construction,” said Eric Lampedecchio, who’s entering his 11th season as a stand attendant on the concourse at the Garden. 

Eric Lampedecchio (Revere, Mass.), a veteran attendant at TD Garden, poses with the Stanley Cup last year.

“The bottom line was I had to pay the bills. You can only imagine how tough of a time it was, looking for work to try to keep the heat on in the winter. You end up dipping into your savings and sometimes emptying the account just to make ends meet.”

This marks the second fall in a row that Lampedecchio has had to endure a lockout, as the 2011-12 NBA season didn’t get under way until late in December. Luckily for the Revere, Mass., native, he has a full-time job he can fall back on.

“I’m fortunate enough to have a full time job in finance, so I was able to get by and with the help of the Bruins’ games, it wasn’t too bad last year,” he said. “Ironically, working nights at the Garden while I was in school full-time allowed me to pay for my bachelor’s degree in business, which landed me my full-time job and helped me survive during the Celtics’ lockout.”

But Lampedecchio knows most of his coworkers aren’t as fortunate. He witnessed a number of them really struggle last year.

“Some of the other workers are not so lucky to have two jobs, especially in this economy,” said Lampedecchio, noting that those in his position — who work on commission — can make upwards of $300 on a good night. “A majority of them ended up applying for unemployment but had a really tough time, especially those with children when the holidays came.”

One member of the game presentation staff, who preferred to speak on the condition of anonymity, said crew members stand to lose anywhere from $400 to $600 a week during the lockout.

“It’s very trying and nerve-racking,” the staffer said. “For the second year in a row, I’ve been left worrying if I am going to be able to pay my bills, and now I have the added stress of finding another job to supplement my income.”

Asked if it’s crazy to step back and realize how many people a lockout truly affects, the game presentation staffer didn’t hide the crew’s frustration.

“It’s mind-blowing,” the staffer said, noting that the opportunity to have a social life was thrown out the window due to the financial constraints the last lockout put on them. “Not to be selfish, but it isn’t the fans who suffer the most, it’s the workers who depend on it for income. And it’s not just the Garden workers, but the people who work across the street at the bars, writers, TV freelancers, you name it.”

Jaci Donahe, a waitress at the Sports Grille — located just around the corner from the Garden on Canal Street — is bracing for the harsh impact the lockout will have on local businesses. 

Jaci Donahe (Arlington, Mass.), a waitress at the Sports Grille, fears one or two bars could go out of business.

“I would not be surprised to see one or two bars go out of business if the lockout lasts the entire year,” Donahe said. “If you look outside of the restaurants, the amount of people that use public transportation to get to games or park at one of the many lots around the area, that is all income that is taken away. And you can’t forget that restaurants also see a boost in revenue from visiting teams’ fans.”

Donahe estimates that business at the Sports Grille can be as much as 10 times higher when something’s going on at the Garden compared to a regular day.

“On a Bruins’ game day, a waitress can easily walk out of there with anywhere from $100 to $200, depending on if they work the pregame rush and are there until closing,” she said. “On a regular day, the staff might be lucky to ring in $1,000 to $2,000 in sales. On a game night, that number could hit or surpass $10,000.”

Shifts on days of Bruins’ games tend to be few and far between for Donahe, because the Arlington, Mass., native is a season-ticket holder. If she wasn’t able to sell her tickets to make ends meet during the NBA lockout, she would’ve had to hunt for a second job.

Donahe knows that opportunities to work during the lockout will get trimmed down significantly, as the restaurant requires a much smaller crew on non-event days.

“The lack of Bruins’ games means less hours and shifts all around, from waitresses and bartenders to cooks,” she said. “Without the NHL in October, there are only a handful of circus shifts and one concert for the entire month, which would’ve seen eight Bruins games if you include the preseason.”

Lampedecchio — who praised his employers for being upbeat and as communicative as possible throughout the trying times — hopes fans realize just how big of an impact the lockout has, both in Boston and across the nation.

“I like to explain the impact like this: Think of how busy the arena is, Causeway Street, the North End and even Faneuil Hall are before and after a game,” Lampedecchio said. “Think about all the fans hitting the local restaurants and bars. Think of all the money that is changing hands. That is positive economic activity.

“Now multiply this activity by every team in the NHL to get an idea of what a negative impact that has nationally. It’s huge and has to be in the millions. When you have millions of dollars in economic activity come to a screeching halt, in an economy that is already not doing so hot, it’s the people that suffer.”

Asked what she’d say if she could deliver a message to the NHL and the NHLPA, Donahe said she’d try to convey to them just how widespread the damage will be from the lockout.

“I would tell them that the lockout goes way beyond the owners and the players,” she said. “It even goes beyond the employees in the arenas and restaurants and businesses in the arena’s vicinity. The effects will be felt by all of the families of the employees. The NHL and NHLPA are putting thousands of people’s lives in unneeded uncertainty. Businesses that could be hiring more employees are at a standstill and some people will probably lose their jobs.”

The game presentation staffer wouldn’t mince words if given the same opportunity to voice arena workers’ frustrations with those responsible for their looming hardship.

“Figure it out, and soon,” the staffer said. “While you guys are fighting over millions, we are scraping for pennies.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal and is the editor of hockeyjournal.com

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com