Trader Vic's at L.A. Live saw traffic plummet after the Lakers loss.… (Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles…)
When the Lakers were prematurely eliminated from the NBA playoffs this week, it was a brutal defeat for diehard fans. But for business owners who had anticipated several more weeks of selling pitchers of beer, plates of nachos and purple-and-gold gear, the loss was also a financial blow.
"I'd say we're probably losing about $20,000 easily," said Helen Handy, co-owner of Champs Sports Pub in Burbank, which shows Lakers games on all 18 television sets during the postseason. "It's definitely going to hurt us. We got spoiled the last two years."
Over at Trader Vic's in downtown's L.A. Live on Tuesday — when the Lakers would have played Game 5 against the Dallas Mavericks at neighboring Staples Center — just nine people were seated in the lounge of the tropical-themed restaurant, and a party of 10 was finishing up in the back dining room. Typically, there's at least a two-hour wait for a table on game nights, owner John Valencia said.
"As a fan, I'm extremely disappointed, but as an owner, it's pretty devastating for business," he said. "We're event-driven, and when you have a Laker game on standby and it doesn't happen, it's very difficult to backfill."
After back-to-back championships, the Lakers were swept 4-0 in the second round, a staggering and swift demise for a team that many thought would three-peat in mid-June.
Now business owners and managers across the Southland are cutting staff hours, placing smaller orders with their food and merchandise vendors and trying to drum up interest in other sporting events (Memphis Grizzlies game, anyone?).
The Lakers are a huge draw for merchants and won't be easy to replace, said economist Esmael Adibi of Chapman University, who estimated that local businesses would lose at least $60 million to $70 million because of the team's early exit.
"When you take the crowd that would go to the Staples Center itself and all the activities that take place, it is a large sum of money," he said. "Every sporting event has some economic impact, and unfortunately there is no substitution."
That was apparent at L.A. Live on Tuesday evening, which was decidedly not lively except for some tourists, convention-goers and the occasional Lakers fan — a stark contrast to the usually frenetic vibe that pervades the neon-lighted entertainment complex.
"It's been pretty dead ever since the Lakers lost," said Jason Nguyen, a security official for L.A. Live who said some of his part-time co-workers were told not to report for their shifts. "It's depressing. We thought we were going to the finals."
The Lakers' epic collapse was still weighing on the mind of Xavier Readus, a USC pre-med student who was hanging out in front of Staples Center with his sister.
During the playoffs, Readus usually heads to the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live, where he orders a large beer and French fries while watching the Lakers on one of the flat-screen TVs. But with the team out of the running, Readus, 24, said he'd rather save his $20.
"I probably won't get any food," he said. "If there was a game, I would."
The Lakers' unexpected loss will also affect merchandise sellers, who said Lakers gear is among the most popular of all professional sports team products.
Sport Chalet stores saw a windfall of business after the Lakers' most recent championships, selling jerseys, T-shirts, license plate frames and basketballs to celebratory fans, Chief Executive Craig Levra said.
This year, the La Cañada Flintridge sporting goods chain won't be able to match its 2009 and 2010 Lakers-related sales, he said. Now the company is turning its attention to other playoff series, including the NHL, and making sure it has ample inventory of merchandise for those teams.
"There are winners and losers, and we keep score and it counts," Levra said. "You never budget a championship — that's extra."
After the Lakers won the championship last year against the Boston Celtics, product sales at Staples Center set a record, said Sean Ryan, vice president of merchandise for AEG, which owns the arena and developed L.A. Live.
Now that the Lakers have been eliminated, there's no need to set up pop-up tents and kiosks to hawk Lakers paraphernalia, Ryan said. Although fans can still stop at Staples Center's Team LA store, which operates year-round, employees are in the process of removing some of the shop's Lakers merchandise to make more room for Clippers and Kings gear.
"Obviously there's definitely going to be a lack of game revenue," he said, "but in comparison to years past, there's a lot more traffic throughout the area."
Merchants can also count on hard-core fans such as Ricky Kelly, 20, of Culver City, who went to the Team LA store this week to buy a $41 Lakers hat.
"I'm still representing them," he said. "You stay with your team for the ups and downs. I'm Lakers for life."
Although restaurant and bar owners said they were hopeful that the crowds would turn out for other basketball games, many noted a lack of interest in the remaining teams.
"There were two games on last night, and I did three times more business during the day than I did last night — it was a horrible sign," said Randy Murzynski, manager of the Varsity Sports Bar & Lounge. The bar on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles expects to lose $60,000 for the rest of the NBA postseason.
"We have a big Laker base, and with them being eliminated like this, it cuts down our business by I would say probably 80% during those games," he said. "We pack 'em in. Now, who knows what's going to happen."