FOXBORO – Asked how the National Football League lockout might impact his restaurant, Jeff Senior had a simple response.
“In today’s economy, I think any time sales are down it’s significant – whether it’s small or large,” said Senior, owner of Skipjack’s Seafood Emporium at Patriot Place. “A lot of potential guests won’t be coming.”
They likely won’t be coming to Skipjack’s – or Patriot Place, for that matter – if the NFL’s labor dispute extends through late July, when several businesses in the outdoor mall adjacent to Gillette Stadium see a spike in traffic and sales with the start of New England Patriots training camp.
And should the lockout stretch into mid-August, it would present a reality that nobody associated with Patriot Place wants to entertain: missed games. The Patriots play 10 home games each year, two in the preseason and eight in the regular season, allowing Gillette Stadium’s capacity crowds of 68,756 to experience the 1.3-million-square-foot shopping, dining and entertainment center.
Owned by The Kraft Group, of which Patriots owner Robert Kraft is chairman and CEO, Patriot Place opened its first stores in November 2007. Nearly four years later, the potential absence of hundreds of thousands of guests roaming the site has caused varying levels of concern among those within Patriot Place.
Of the 15 Patriot Place businesses polled earlier this month, one reported that it did not anticipate the lockout having a negative impact on its revenue. That was Showcase Cinema de Lux, which advertises show times on the Gillette Stadium video boards during Patriots games.
Reached for comment, Patriot Place general manager Brian Earley issued the following email statement through a spokesman: “Patriot Place is a year-round destination, open seven days a week. Our visitors come for unique stores, a wide variety of restaurants and one-of-a-kind entertainment options.”
Indeed, Patriot Place is open 365 days a year, not just the 10 on which the Patriots play. But make no mistake – the $350 million complex would suffer without football.
It began on March 12, when NFL owners officially locked out their players after the sides could not come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The issues at stake include how to divide the league’s $9 billion in annual revenue – of which the owners want a larger share – and the owners’ proposed increase of the regular season from 16 to 18 games, a change that would eliminate two preseason contests.
Bill Belichick’s Patriots are slated for four preseason tilts in 2011, two of which would be played at Gillette Stadium, on Aug. 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and on Sept. 1 against the New York Giants. If the regular season starts as planned, the Patriots will host the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 18 in the first of their eight home games.
The more immediate concern, though, is training camp.
Barring a continued work stoppage, Patriots camp is set to open July 25 and run through mid-August, a period during which many Patriot Place businesses begin to reap the benefits of residing next to a state-of-the-art facility like Gillette Stadium.
“We definitely depend on the whole training camp aspect,” said Russ Wells, service manager at CBS Scene Restaurant and Bar, “and then also once the season starts, for increase in business, certainly.”
Softening the blow of that loss would be a tall order, Wells said.
“We’re doing a bunch of different things to increase sales right now,” he said, “but to be able to compensate for that, it would be tough, because the pure amount of people that are brought in by the Patriots, it’s hard to bring that amount of people into Patriot Place when there’s no football game.”
Dunkin’ Donuts manager Grasi Souza admits an extended lockout “would be a big thing” for her business, which enjoys sales increases of 25 percent on game days and 15 percent per day during training camp.
A similar sentiment exists at Qdoba Mexican Grill, where general manager Tanya Donnelly said game days generate approximately $3,000 in revenue, a significant amount.
“We would take a hit,” Donnelly said.
Senior’s restaurant also stands to take a hit. He said Skipjack’s revenue for a Sunday game is roughly five times greater than what it would be on a typical Sunday. During training camp, Skipjack’s daily sales are up 20-25 percent.
The Renaissance Boston Patriot Place Hotel & Spa normally produces high occupancies on Saturdays regardless of football, general manager Mark Jeffery said. But that’s not to say the lockout wouldn’t impact the hotel.
According to a March 18 report in The Boston Globe, the Renaissance charges premium nightly rates of between $459 and $699 when the Patriots are in town, compared to a typical price range of $149 to $219 when games are not played.
So while the Renaissance might not necessarily have a sharp decline in guests, there’s no substitute for one thing football provides: exposure.
“Exposure is big,” Jeffery said. “Seventy thousand people come to this location, and a lot of them didn’t know there was a hotel right there. The exposure that we get during events is invaluable.”
Not all Patriot Place businesses increase their sales during football season. For some, the hustle and bustle that accompanies Patriots games is actually an inconvenience.
The manager of a salon in the mall said 95 percent of her customers are established clients, the vast majority of whom will schedule their appointments around football.
“In this industry, I can’t rely on the what-ifs,” said the manager, who declined to be identified. “In this business, we don’t rely on what’s going on in Gillette. It’s an extra, but I wouldn’t rely on it.”
Still, there’s no downplaying the visibility the salon receives because of the Patriots. The manager acknowledged that “the flow of traffic in the weeks in August that they practice is huge.”
As a result, she might see some of those same people back at the salon in the future.
“You have to take it for what it’s worth,” the manager said. “I may get some, I may not, but people are like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t even know you were here!’ But now they know, so for future events they might pre-book something before they come.”
With increased awareness come increased revenue opportunities, creating extra hours for employees that would be threatened by the lockout.
The assistant manager of a Patriot Place retail store said her employees’ work schedule is determined by the amount of traffic expected in the store that day. In the event of an extended lockout, she said, her employees’ Sunday hours would likely be cut, as Patriots games are the store’s busiest traffic days of the year.
“It at least gives us a chance to sell,” said the assistant manager, who opted to remain anonymous. “We do have a lot of opportunity for football games, and I think as a whole, as a mall, not just my store, I think the whole mall is going to lose a lot of money [due to the lockout]. We do see a lot of people shopping on those days, not necessarily in my store, but they’re shopping on those days. They go to Reebok, they go to the [Patriots] ProShop, they come here. They make a day of it.”
Store managers at Reebok and Patriots ProShop declined comment when asked how the lockout might affect their sales, as did representatives from Bar Louie, GameStop and Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, whose owner, Steve DiFillippo, did not return multiple emails.
Perhaps this will be much ado about nothing. Wells certainly feels that way.
“I personally think it’s going to be over and done with before football season,” Wells said of the lockout. “My personal concern is probably a four or five [out of 10]. It looks like they’re making strides to make it happen.”
If they don’t, at least not before the Patriots are scheduled to open camp next month, Jeffery believes the effects will be felt throughout Patriot Place.
“It’s a loss for everyone,” Jeffery said. “At the end of the day, it is only 10 games that we’re guaranteed, but the amount of exposure that Patriot Place, including our hotel, gets with 70,000 people coming to the location is invaluable, because it further brings identity to the site.”
Again, Senior preferred to keep it simple.
“Put it this way,” he said, “we want to see football being played. Football being played is good for business.”