NFL lockout could prove costly to Indy economy

Sarah Hershberger considers herself a casual football fan with a growing interest — in one particular game.

Like everyone else in Indianapolis, she's hoping that NFL team owners and the players' union are able to strike a labor deal that allows the season to go on and next year's Super Bowl to kick off as scheduled on Feb. 5.

This isn't about hoping the Colts have a great 2011 and wind up as the first team to play in America's most popular sporting event at their home stadium. No, Hershberger just wants to know how to plan for Super Bowl week at the Staybridge Suites hotel, where she is the assistant manager.

"I know they're working on negotiations or something, and I know that there could be some danger of the game not being played," Hershberger said, shaking her head.

It's too much to contemplate, so Hershberger is banking on the game being played.

Still, while danger may be small, it is real. Players have said they expect the league to lock them out if agreement is not reached on a collective bargaining agreement by the time the current one runs out at the end of the day on March 3.

The worst-case scenario — no season — would mean the city of Indianapolis sustaining the most expensive hit in league history. Not even Peyton Manning could afford this one.

"The effects could be consequential," said Michael Hicks, director of Ball State's Center for Business and Economic Research. "We'll probably see a loss of $200 million if there is a lockout."

Hicks knows.

Three years ago, he published a study that examined the economic impact of the Super Bowl on host cities from 1969 to 2005. Hicks found the economic boost ranged from $360 million to $450 million. Chris Gahl, spokesman for the Indiana Visitors and Convention Association, said league officials believe Indy will get an infusion of at least $150 million next year.

Yet after spending four years fine-tuning every detail, from locating an army of knitters to make Super Bowl scarves to checking on the downtown construction project organizers have billed as Olympics Village meets the Super Bowl, the one question that won't go away in Indy is this: Could it all be for naught?

"It's so unlikely that there won't be a Super Bowl that it's just something I'm not even thinking about," said Dianna Boyce, spokeswoman for the 2012 host committee who spent this week watching money and fans flow through Dallas, braving snow in Texas to see the big bowl.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith has repeatedly said he expects a lockout, perhaps by March 4, even as commissioner Roger Goodell insists a deal will be in place long before the Super Bowl is jeopardized.

"The message to our friends in Indianapolis is to continue their plans," Goodell said at a news conference on Friday. "We believe we're going to be playing there."

Nonetheless, there is precedent from other sports. Baseball fans remember the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and hockey fans recall the season without a Stanley Cup (2004-05). A lost season in football could prove more costly.

The union contends $160 million in local spending and 3,000 jobs would be lost in each NFL city if the season is not played. Player salaries account for 30 percent to 50 percent of that $160 million.

City officials did not have an estimate for how much money Colts' home games provide on a given weekend.

While league spokesman Greg Aiello challenges the union numbers, losing the Super Bowl would be quite costly for Indy's retailers, restaurateurs and hoteliers.

The city already has blocked out more than 18,000 rooms at 141 hotels for two weekends next February. The list includes Hershberger's entire hotel, which is less than one block from Lucas Oil Stadium, and new ones such as the J.W. Marriott. The 1,005-room Marriott opened Friday.

Without the game, or any other big events in town during those two February weekends, filling those beds will be tough.

"It's important both sides come to an agreement," said John Livengood, president of the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association and Indiana Restaurant Association. "Probably the hotels to some degree would be hit a little harder because they rely more on people coming in from out of town."

The other potential problem could emerge in the city's restaurants.

One early concern, Livengood said, was finding enough downtown space to feed the projected 150,000 out-of-town visitors that are expected to fill hotel rooms as far away as Terre Haute and Richmond, cities near the Illinois and Ohio state lines. Because of corporate events and private parties during Super Bowl week, Livengood says some restaurants have "ramped up" efforts to fill the demand.

Losing the game could leave those seats empty, too.

"Every time we have a meeting someone asks a question (about the lockout), though the phones aren't ringing off the hook," Livengood said. "There's nothing you can do about it, you just have to hope it gets worked out."

Either way, organizers do not expect it to be a total washout.

Last month, host committee chairman Mark Miles acknowledged the league has assured city officials Indy would get a future Super Bowl if next year's is canceled. The presumption is it would come back in 2015. New Orleans is scheduled to host the Super Bowl in 2013, with East Rutherford, N.J., getting the game in 2014.

But three years is a long time to wait.

"Over a three or four-year period it may sort of round out," Hicks said. "But this is when we really would like it."

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