KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Bar owners, hoteliers, souvenir sellers — and City Hall officials — are starting to noticeably fidget as the player lockout in the National Football League inches closer to threatening the upcoming season.
The league's players and owners are arguing over billions of dollars in salaries and benefits, and may be moving closer to a resolution of their months-long dispute. An appeals court gave the owners a victory Friday, when it ruled their lockout is legal while negotiations continue in New York.
But even as the dispute plays out in courtrooms and boardrooms, the effects of the shutdown are starting to ripple through the multimillion-dollar merchandise and tourist industries.
The lockout also will eventually pinch tax revenues in cities and states battling tight budgets.
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"Missing even one game of the upcoming season would have serious implications for our city," Mayor Sly James wrote in a recent letter to Chiefs owner Clark Hunt and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "Taking any time off would be of serious detriment to both the city and region."
James and others in government believe a prolonged shutdown could cost them millions in sales, income and earnings taxes, although those shortfalls admittedly are months away.
But lockout headaches already are afflicting plaguing some private companies — such as Sampler Stores Inc., which sells team jerseys and other sports-related items in the Kansas City and Dallas areas.
Owner Tim Liebert said he bought football-related apparel last year to sell when the season kicked off. Now, he and other shops are negotiating with suppliers to delay or cancel some of deliveries as the lockout dampens buyer enthusiasm.
"We're really nervous," Liebert said. "We've got all these orders ... We're all in this same stew together."
Hospitality businesses may soon find themselves feeling the heat, too, said Rick Hughes of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association.
Hotel reservations and car rentals may disappear if games are canceled, he said, followed closely by fewer fans at sports bars and restaurants. Up to half of the Chiefs game-day fan base, he said, may come from outside the nine-county Kansas City metropolitan area.
"It's an awful thing," Hughes said. "This is a big, big football region."
St. Joseph also will take a hit if the team's summer training camp on the campus of Missouri Western State University is canceled or curtailed.
Media companies also are hoping for a quick end to the pigskin stalemate. Some radio and television stations, football prediction magazines, even the daily newspaper depend to some degree on increased readership and sales in the fall.
The fantasy football industry, for example, takes in about $800 million a year nationally, but some magazine publishers already have written off the season.
"We'll be lucky if we make one-third of what we make in a normal year," publisher Bruce Taylor recently told The Associated Press. His company won't produce its Fantasy Football Index magazine for the first time in 25 years.
Despite the concerns, precise estimates of the economic impact from a shorter football season are hard to come by. One study suggests Kansas City could lose between $10 million and $20 million in economic activity for each canceled game.
It isn't clear whether football fans will simply spend their money on something else, reducing the impact of a lockout. Economists think that movies, concerts and other entertainment options may actually see an uptick in sales if the lockout lasts.
But anything like a $10 million-$20 million weekly loss probably would mean less tax money for cash-strapped cities, counties and states. Kansas City, for example, could lose $50,000 in earnings tax revenue for each missed game — $500,000 or more over an entire season — just from player salaries.
That possibility comes at a crucial time, because the City Council this week 7-11-2011 will begin discussing its annual $2 million taxpayer contribution for upkeep at the Truman Sports Complex.
So far, council members appear reluctant to link that spending decision with a possible cut in revenue from football.
"It definitely worries me," said Finance Committee Chairwoman Jan Marcason, who will get an estimate Wednesday of earnings tax losses from a lockout. "But I don't think we can base our decision on whether or not to support our obligations at the sports complex on whether there might be a lockout."
That's good news for Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who relies on that $2 million to help defray maintenance and operations payments to the Chiefs and Royals.
"The city's obligation is the city's obligation," he said before leaving for baseball's All-Star Game in Phoenix on Tuesday.
Sanders also said he's confident the Chiefs will make their required rent payments by the end of July, as required under the lease agreement. The team owes $90,000 in basic rent by Aug. 1, the first of five such monthly payments. It also owes attendance-based rent estimated at $1.4 million.
The lease allows the team to defer rent payments for extraordinary unforeseen events such as a storm, a terrorist attack, or even a strike or a lockout.
Sanders said he has had no indication the team would seek to exercise the clause and would "work with our partners" if it becomes an issue. Some local officials argue the clause couldn't be invoked anyway because the lockout is a voluntary event, not an unpredictable calamity.