United Center bars feel pinch of NBA lockout

November 17, 2011|By Emily Van Zandt, RedEye

Michael O'Connor is a glass half-full kind of guy.

His new sports bar, The Ogden, is set to open in a few weeks, just blocks east of United Center. The address will make it one of the closest bars to the arena, a prime stop for Bulls fans—that is, if there's a season.

O'Connor, general manager at the bar and restaurant, and owner Joseph Panfil had thought their food-driven sports spot would be opening as the Bulls 2011-2012 season was picking up steam. Instead they're busy crossing their fingers that it will happen at all.

"It's interesting, because this could potentially be helpful to us," says O'Connor. "If the season begins like they're talking about now, it would start right as we open."

On Tuesday, NBA commissoner David Stern canceled NBA games through Dec. 15 as part of an ongoing labor dispute between owners and players.

"If (the season) had started on time we would have been missing out on all these games," O'Connor said.

But with the potential for the entire season to be canceled looming on the horizon, O'Connor knows that finger-crossing will only go so far. Without a season, The Ogden, like many bars near the United Center, will have to make up for the lost revnue in other ways.

"I accounted for 82 sports events this year at United Center—41 regular season hockey games and 41 regular season NBA games," says O'Connor. "If there is not basketball season I have to make up for 41 days where I assumed there would be 22,000 people next door to me."

At a press conference in New York on Thursday, restaurant and tavern owner associations teamed up with New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith to unveil an ongoing petition to NBA players and management, saying the lockout has cost local businesses as much as $40 million. Similar losses are being felt in Chicago.

Aaron Bilgin, owner of nearby sports bar Union Park, estimates that his business has already suffered a 15 percent to 20 percent loss in revenue because of canceled games.

"The recession is not getting better, people are not spending money and losing a favorite Chicago team for a season is really killer," Bilgin said. Because Union Park doesn't see much traffic from neighborhood residents, Bilgin is now hoping for good seasons for the Blackhawks and Bears to make up for the major loss.

"I already took $40,000 from my other business (nightclub Stone Lotus) just to pay my mortgage at Union Park," Bilgin said. "We're really suffering."

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