This weekend will bring the first local casualties of the NBA lockout, and it has nothing to do with Dwight Howard's salary or Rich DeVos' profits.
Amway Center will sit dark Sunday instead of hosting the Orlando Magic's first pre-season game.
Without an NBA season, the arena will be empty on all but just seven days between now and the end of the year. There are four concerts scheduled this month, a college basketball game and a concert in November and just a single day of events in all of December.
Forget the players' union and the team owners, the real losers of the lockout are the businesses that feed off the crowds on game days.
It's not sad that the $480 million arena will be so vacant in only its second year of operation — it's downright shameful.
Entire businesses were built on the idea that Magic games would draw foot traffic downtown.
"Without a season, it would be devastating," said Willie Fisher, co-owner of Draft Global Beer Lounge & Grill, which opened up about six months ago across from the arena.
The lockout means 70 percent of the events booked at Amway Center between now and Jan. 1 disappear.
The dispute between the players and the team owners is all about how much the two sides get paid. For local merchants and their employees the stakes are so much higher — the question is if they will get paid at all.
No basketball means no customers. On many nights, Church Street on the west side of Interstate 4 closest to the arena is a virtual ghost town. And the crowds are also sparse on the east side of the street, the site of the old Church Street Station complex.
The Magic owe the city of Orlando the same amount of rent for its use of the arena whether the games are canceled or not. But there is no such protection for business owners. The city is not allowed to try to book new events to replace Magic games until the NBA officially cancels the games.
On Tuesday the NBA officially called off all preseason games after the players and team owners met for several hours. The first two weeks of the regular season, which is scheduled to start Nov. 1, are also expected to be canceled.
Even if the city could try to rent out the center on those dates, it would be tough to do considering the short notice and the overall downturn in the concert market brought on by the weakness in the economy.
A prolonged lockout could also put in danger the NBA All-Star Game, which Orlando is set to host in February and was heralded by the city and the Magic last year as an event that would be a big boost to the local economy made possible by the new arena. That game and its related events are scheduled to take up 10 days at the arena.
Losing the All-Star Game would be the ultimate insult for local businesses that persevered through the construction of the arena only to get through one season and then be dealt a lockout and the potential loss of the biggest sporting event in town next year.
There are lots of people holding out hope that the lockout will come to a swift end in the next few weeks. Most NBA players don't start to draw a paycheck until after the regular season starts, and the threat of those checks being in jeopardy will likely aid in speeding a resolution.
But there's also a good chance that the dispute could drag on. It's happened before. A work stoppage delayed the start of the 1998-99 season until February.
"I've been staying away from the schedule," Fisher said. "I didn't want to see what we were losing. It would only just get me sick."
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