Ball Don't Lie - NBA

One Portland bar doesn’t want to hear that an NBA lockout won’t cost the locals

I think it's fair to say that your humble narrator has been to a few public houses in his life, as well as plenty of bars perched in cities with an NBA team. But outside of a few that would have served as terrible puns in blogrolls that we'd ignore, we've yet to come across a bar in an NBA city with a name that would double as a pretty cool name of a team blog.

Enter -- via Pro Basketball Talk and as documented by the Portland Tribune -- Spirit of 77. Not only does the pub's name reference the lone NBA title in Portland Trail Blazer history, it references the year of the only title in Portland major professional sports history. Most of us by now know that there is quite a bit more to do in the Oregon city than take in a Blazers game either at the stadium or at a bar like this, but in all literal senses of the term? Regarding major league sports? The Trail Blazers and Major League Soccer's Timbers are the only games in town.

And what happens if they go away? For a month, half a season, or an entire season? What if the team's first-round loss last spring was the last Blazer game the area will see until the fall of 2012?

From the Tribune:

Arena ticket sellers, vendors and parking attendants could lose jobs along with Blazers front office staff. In addition, the city of Portland's 6 percent take of ticket and parking revenue from Blazers games — $3.65 million last season — would disappear.

Spirit of '77 manager [Timothy] Davey says no business in town would be more affected by a prolonged NBA lockout than his. "If it gets to the point where there's not an NBA season, it will have a dramatic effect on the vitality and future of Spirit of '77," Davey says.

(This is a must-read, I should point out. There is far more in this piece that is well worth diving into, beyond my tiny pull quote.)

The article goes on to point out that, overall, the cost to a city and community when a pro sports team shuts down (either by leaving the city, or during a work stoppage) is "nil." It doesn't make sense, when you think of all those restaurant checks, concessions, parked cars and (ahem) "unofficial merchants," but time and time again economists have pointed out that when the sports go away, the great bulk of the money-spenders just spend it on something else:

"People spend their discretionary income," says Lauren Beitelspacher, Portland State University assistant professor of marketing. "They have a budget for entertainment, and they're going to spend it."

If they're not spending it on Blazers game nights, Beitelspacher says, they may go out to the movies more often, or out to dinner or on extra vacations. But they will spend it. And in some cases, what they spend it on might yield greater benefit for the Portland area than putting it in Blazers owner Paul Allen's pocket.

It might. Times are changing, though.

The Internet, full of benefits, isn't exactly the greatest thing for local merchants. Or even chain stores, parsed out locally. We use Netflix, Amazon, eBay and Hulu in places where video stores, book retailers, boutique merchants, and local TV (with those local ads) once sufficed. It's true that a family might take the odd $200 bucks and spend it elsewhere in town, but as we become more and more of an international, plugged-in society, how long will that last?

In Portland? A while, perhaps. They're known for going to great lengths to do things locally, in the community. This famous scene from "Portlandia" shouldn't serve as documentary evidence, but it's not far off.

There are 29 other teams, and 28 other NBA towns to consider, though. And the economists are right. There will always be a sort of local (or tangentially local) financial vacuum to sop that discretionary income up. One dollar unspent outside the stadium will be eagerly grabbed up somewhere else.

We've just seen too many good people over the years on our way in and out of NBA arenas, to feel good about a thing like that.

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