Scotiabank Arena food and drink ban might be best for public health, but not so much for MLSE pockets
When Peter Jüni called for more restrictions at professional sporting events in the province on Tuesday, he went further than simply suggesting capacity limits.
The scientific director of the Ontario Volunteer Independent Scientific Table also told The Star that concession stands should be closed at places like the Scotiabank Arena, home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors, to make sure people wear their mask throughout their visit, without interruption to eat or drink. Jüni said it was an extra layer of protection in the battle against Omicron, the fast-spreading variant of COVID-19 that has become Ontario’s toughest opponent in a matter of weeks.
Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday followed up on one of Jüni’s suggestions, announcing that any site in the province that can accommodate 1,000 people or more will be limited to 50% of its capacity as of 12:01 am Saturday.
But the concessions will remain open to fans who visit the Scotiabank Arena.
A ban on food and drink may be in the interest of public health, but sports experts say it would be a major economic blow, hundreds of thousands of dollars per game, to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment , the parent company of the Leafs and the Raptors.
“It’s not a bad idea when we’re trying to balance the health and safety side of the pendulum, but when we think of the company’s high-margin revenues, beer and alcohol are number one,” said Michael Naraine, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sports Management at Brock University.
A can of Bud Light costs around $ 2.50 at the local LCBO, Naraine said. At Scotiabank Arena, it could cost $ 12. Not all markup will reach in MLSE’s pocket, but a significant portion will.
In smaller markets, some sports organizations are happy to cut tickets to seat fans, as they know beer, food, and other high-margin products like jerseys and hats will recoup some of the loss. Naraine said. A $ 10 nosebleed bill can be a good compromise for buying five Bud Lights, he added.
The NHL missed out on $ 3.6 billion (US) in revenue during the pandemic-stricken 2020-2021 season, according to an article in The Athletic earlier this year, with nearly $ 1.6 billion in sales of lost tickets and an additional $ 2 billion lost in gambling spending.
Former MLSE President and CEO Richard Peddie believes current President Larry Tanenbaum and the rest of his former organization have done a terrific job during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said he won’t had no doubt the company had “lost their shirt” since March 2020 and things can’t be great for them now. The NBA, NHL, and NFL have all been grappling with resurgences of COVID-19 cases of late.
With four fine dining restaurants at the Scotiabank Arena and numerous point-of-sale kiosks, Peddie agrees that food and drink is a very important contributor to the bottom line. But he said the venue wouldn’t be able to guarantee that thousands of people will always keep their masks on, making the Scotiabank Arena a petri dish with or without food and drink options.
“I’m not sure that’s the solution,” Peddie said. “It really goes back to… you wonder if these people should be in the building.”
MLSE announced an improved mask protocol following Ford’s announcement on Thursday, which will be in place for Saturday’s Raptors game. Any participant not wearing their mask properly – over their nose and mouth and securely under the chin, except when eating or drinking – could be ejected from the Scotiabank Arena.
Naraine said restrictions such as eliminating concessions could make fans reluctant to return to games in the future, could affect employment at MLSE as well as other businesses that depend on MLSE, and could create more inequalities between the Canadian NHL and NBA teams. and their US counterparts, who will likely continue to generate revenue from key streams outside of ticket sales.
Having something is better than nothing, Naraine said, whether it’s games with no food and drinks, games with half the crowd, or games with no crowds at all.
But on the business side of the delicate balance between health and income, saying goodbye to food and drink at sporting events would come at a steep cost.
“We have to be careful with what is suggested because I am definitely for the capacity limits,” Naraine said. “But I don’t think killing food and drink will solve the transmission crisis of the Omicron community here.” “
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