Last Tuesday evening, Greg Stenis found less-than-perfect conditions for climbing onto the roof of his Dwyer’s Irish Pub on Webster Street in North Tonawanda.
It was dark and numbingly cold, about 9 degrees. But Stenis felt he had no choice. He needed to install a new DirecTV dish.
That’s how important Buffalo Sabres games are for some restaurant-bar owners being hurt badly by the current dispute that has taken MSG Network — and the Sabres — off Time Warner Cable.
“I was cursing Time Warner,” Stenis recalled. “I had no gloves on. I couldn’t feel my fingers, and there were plenty of expletives coming out of my mouth.”
Stenis, who went up on the roof with kitchen managers Ed Litwinski and Tom Robbins, didn’t get the dish installed in time for last Tuesday’s Sabres- Edmonton Oilers game, the first hockey game affected by the blackout.
“We kind of went from a full bar [the previous game] to seven people in the bar,” he said Monday. “The Sabres games have a huge impact, especially if they’re doing well. It’s staggering.”
Stenis didn’t hesitate in opting for the satellite dish, which was installed Friday by Satellite Solutions.
“It’s mainly just for the Sabres games,” he said. “Without them, I’m dead in the water. There are so many games left, I just had to do it.”
The blackout, now in its second week, has created plenty of winners and losers for area bars that rely heavily on Sabres games to pack their establishments.
That’s especially important for these businesses in January, when many potential customers aren’t in a spending mood following the holidays.
Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, just a long slap shot from the First Niagara Center, has lost “thousands of dollars” of business after losing hundreds of potential customers for the first three games that didn’t air on Time Warner.
“Finally, we have made the change to DirecTV,” general manager Bill Casale said Monday. “We held off as long as we could.”
Pearl Street officials made the decision Thursday, and the satellite dish should be installed in time for tonight’s televised game.
“Obviously, our business is very contingent on the Sabres at this time of the year,” Casale added. “Rather than take a loss, we needed to be known as a place that would air the games.”
Tonight, the Sabres play the Maple Leafs in Toronto, and the team once again is inviting fans into the arena to view the game on the scoreboard. Admission and parking are free, and the first 3,000 fans receive vouchers for a free soda and popcorn.
This will be the second such broadcast. Friday night, the arena drew 5,026 fans looking for their hockey fix.
But Sabres fans shouldn’t get too used to seeing the road games in First Niagara Center. After tonight, the next handful of away games won’t be shown, because of scheduling conflicts inside the building.
Just like their fans, the Sabres feel powerless in this struggle, which some Sabres fanatics have characterized as another battle between multimillionaire corporate interests.
“We’re frustrated that our fans, who are our No. 1 customers, are not seeing our product,” said Michael Gilbert, the team’s vice president of public and community relations. “It’s very frustrating, because there’s nothing we can do about it.”
One big winner in the dispute has been Satellite Solutions in Depew, one of a handful of local independent retailers for DirecTV.
“Our call volume has probably tripled since the start of the year, both on the residential side and the commercial side,” co-owner Larry Bakeman said Monday.
Bakeman said his company installed between 50 and 60 residential dishes and another 10 to 15 commercial ones last week.
John Bona III, owner of Amherst Pizza&Ale House, has noticed roughly a 10 to 20 percent increase in his game-night crowds.
“It’s added to the atmosphere,” he said of the current stalemate. “The passionate Time Warner customers who can’t get the games now are seeking a place to see them. They’re now turning it into a night out.”
This is no small corner bar. The Pizza & Ale House has 18 television screens showing the Sabres along with any other National Hockey League games.
Before the restaurant opened in March 2005, Bona’s family decided to make the Sabres telecasts a game-night promotion, offering some half-price pizza and beer-pitcher specials for all their games — until the team won the Stanley Cup.
That promotion, needless to say, still survives.
“Right off the blocks, we got known for showing the Sabres games,” Bona said.
Source: Gene Warner, buffalonews.com