Blackhawks vendors ask, 'How much money is in that Stanley Cup?'

The Chicago Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup home Thursday after their thrilling win against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, and the city was awash in excitement and anticipation for Friday -- when the city throws a parade for its newest hometown heroes.

Hawks jerseys, shirts and caps and other gear are flying off the shelves and bars and restaurants have seen an uptick in their sales as people came out to soak up the atmosphere and share in the camaraderie with their fellow fans during the playoffs. That commotion, and the sales surrounding it, only stands to increase Friday, when an estimated 350,000 people are expected to attend the Blackhawks victory parade in downtown Chicago. (Taxpayers, by the way, will not foot the bill for the parade, according to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.)

Bill Sianis, manager of Billy Goat Tavern and son of owner Sam Sianis, has felt a definite Hawks bounce of late. It's only fitting; the Billy Goat opened its bar near the United Center in 1997 at 1525 W. Madison Street. The original Billy Goat was on the site of the United Center, then across Madison St. from old Chicago Stadium.
"We have a lot more people coming in, maybe 40% to 50% more," Bill Sianis said. "It's tens of thousands of dollars more business over the season. But Hawks fans were a loyal crowd -- we had them for a long time, even when they were losing. Before, people came in mostly before games. Now they're coming in after, especially if they win. They want to stick around."

Sianis added: "During the Hawks clincher, a lot of people came in to watch the game. They started spilling out of the bar onto Madison Street afterward and walking toward the United Center."

You can even feel the Hawks effect in, of all places, Cubs central. "We've had a steady increase [of apparel sales] during the Hawks playoffs," said John Moorehouse, manager of Wrigleyville Sports, across the street from Wrigley Field. "We sell more Hawks stuff than Cubs on days the Cubs don't play. On game days, we always sell more Cubs stuff."

The Hawks' red sweater is Moorehouse's top seller ($150 for a player's name on a sweater; $115 without the player name). On any given day, a different player is the popular seller. Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi have been the top sellers.

Wrigleyville Sports stayed open 'til the clinching game was over, but most fans watched the game rather than came in to buy. They flooded the store for Hawks items the next morning. Moorehouse was busy since 6 a.m., picking up a new order to re-stock the store.

But despite the hoopla being felt now, all good things must fade -- the question is, how soon? Experts predict that the Stanley Cup win will have a limited financial bounce. And while the franchise and related businesses such as broadcasters and merchandise retailers may benefit, the victory will not necessarily set off a wave of cash flowing into the city.

"The excitement will fade relatively soon," said Allen Sanderson, a sports economist at the University of Chicago. "Our attention will turn fairly quickly to, 'How are the Bears doing?'"

That's because hockey still hasn't captured the attention of the American public as much as football, baseball and NBA basketball, which continue to top the sports popularity charts. Another factor, he said, is that the games must compete for recognition in a city with a wealth of other top-notch entertainment options.

The Hawks have the spotlight temporarily, but won't maintain that momentum, even with the current dismal records of Chicago's baseball teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, he said.

"It's hard to imagine a business moving to town or a family moving to town just because of the Blackhawks," Sanderson said.

Others agree that the championship will not likely translate into long-term gains.

Caroline Sallee, a Chicago-based analyst at Anderson Economic Group, which has conducted studies on the impact of sports victories, estimates that Hawks fans attending the playoff games leading up to the Stanley Cup pumped about $11 million extra revenue into city businesses through the sale of food, tickets, parking and other game-day expenditures, but that is a tiny fraction of the city's $6.1 billion annual budget.

"I don't think going forward having won is going to do anything for the city of Chicago," she said.

Another reason the financial impact will remain fairly minimal is because season ticket holders and single-ticket buyers are almost all locals, hailing from within 50 miles of the city. So the money they'll spending is not new income from out-of-towners, just cash that's being shifted around in the area, Sanderson said.

Indeed, popular Hawks fan hangout Moretti's has seen a doubling of its restaurant and bar income on playoff game days, but manager Jesse Hicks doesn't expect that prosperity to continue, at least immediately. "The win is more symbolic than anything else for the city," he said, though he anticipates more patrons at the beginning of the next hockey season.

City tourism also hopes to get a bump out of the Cup victory, but there's no way of knowing if that will actually turn into dollars for Chicago's hotels, restaurants and other tourist draws. "It's great to see the images of the city on national TV," said Karen Vaughan of the Chicago Office of Tourism. Those vistas could inspire out-of-towners to take a trip to the Windy City, but she doesn't know for sure if they will.

In the meantime, retailers are trying to benefit while the Hawks fever still burns. At a Sports Authority in Chicago, sales of Blackhawks apparel were up 300% to 400% over last season, and Thursday saw lines of 75 people deep waiting to purchase their red-and-black regalia. Manager Nydia Mendoza expects the crowds to last another week or so. "Then," she said, "it's back to normal."

WalletPop blogger George Castle contributed to this story.
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