San Antonio businesses brace for NBA labor talks outcome

SAN ANTONIO Mon Oct 10, 2011 6:44pm EDT

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SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Owners of businesses that thrive on NBA games are watching the contentious labor negotiations between the league's billionaire owners and millionaire players with a mixture of fear and frustration.

The two sides are far apart and the lockout that has stretched beyond the 100-day mark is threatening the start of the regular season, set for November 1.

"It is a little frustrating," said Kim Krieg, who operates a sports bar that relies on games of the hometown San Antonio Spurs for many of its promotions.

"They are arguing over millions of dollars, and out here we are all still struggling."

The prospect of having regular season games canceled hits particularly hard in San Antonio, the nation's largest city with only one major league professional sports team.

Much of the city's sports infrastructure, not to mention its public consciousness, is built around the Spurs, who have won the NBA title four times since 1999.

While the focus of the talks has been on what percentage of the ticket, television, and marketing revenue the players and owners will split, workers like Krieg are often forgotten.

She is one of the estimated 4,000 people in San Antonio, from ticket brokers to people who park the cars at the AT&T Center, who make their living partially -- or in some cases entirely -- from the basketball team.

"There is kind of a mixed bag, depending on who you talk to, about what the impact will be," said Jim Goodman, associate athletic director at the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) and an expert on sports marketing.

"Some studies show there won't be much of an impact, but try telling that to the owners of the restaurants, the bars, the food service people, not to mention the people who work at the events."

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Several studies have placed the economic impact of the Spurs for the San Antonio-Austin region at $95 million a year, according to David Bojanic, the Anheuser-Busch professor of tourism marketing at UTSA.

But he said those studies are far from accurate.

"There have also been studies performed on lockouts and strikes, and when professional sports teams threaten to move from one city to another, and those economists haven't found any significant economic impacts on cities from those events," he said.

Goodman said unlike a factory closing or a wave of layoffs, the NBA lockout will not cause income to evaporate or leave the community.

"It always goes back to the substitution theory," he said. "The money people would have paid to buy basketball tickets, or buy a beer at the game or pay for parking, will still have that money and they will spend it in the city on other things."

Bojanic said the vast majority of money goes to the team owners and players, not to the community.

The emotional impact of the NBA lockout might be amplified in a city like San Antonio, said Goodman.

He said most other NBA regions have the National Football League, the National Hockey League, or toward the end of the NBA season, big-league baseball. In San Antonio, the city's pro sports focus is on the Spurs.

"Not only are the Spurs kind of the window of San Antonio throughout the sports world, but they are the focus of lots of emotion from their fans," Goodman said.

"Many people plan their days around the Spurs. Of course, it is very difficult to put an economic number on that, but it is significant."

Bexar County owns the AT&T Center in a partnership with Spurs Sports and Entertainment L.L.C (SSE), and the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, which moves into the facility for three weeks every February.

INCOME LOSS

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff said the agreement with the county shields the taxpayers from taking any loss.

"It won't be a loss of income for us, it will be a huge loss of income for the Spurs," Wolff said. "I'm not expecting a huge hit to the county's bottom line if the lockout does continue."

The Spurs players are in the process of arranging other deals to keep their income flowing.

Guard Tony Parker has already announced plans to play for a team in France, where he grew up, and other players are eyeing similar opportunities.

SSE, which owns the team, likewise is busy with other ventures, promoting the minor league hockey and WNBA team also owned by SSE CEO Peter Holt, as well as concerts at the AT&T Center.

Meanwhile, Krieg is scrambling, hoping to outlast a potentially lengthy lockout.

"Business will continue no matter what," she said. "We'll find other niches to try to make the business continue to thrive, but having the Spurs is always an asset."

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg and Greg McCune)

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