If this was an agonizing week for Seattle Mariners fans, it has been absolutely excruciating for those fans who also happen to run businesses with a potential M‘s connection.
Take Jamie Munson, whose Simply Seattle business makes and sells gear evoking Seattle sports teams.
In the hour before Thursday’s Game 2, Munson’s staff did a booming trade from a pop-up store at a watch party at the Queen Anne Beerhall in Seattle.
Especially hot: the “Rally Shoe” T-shirt that Simply Seattle had designed, printed and started selling within a day of the M’s historic comeback against Toronto last week.
But those who live by the rally also die by it.
As Thursday’s game wore on and the Mariners were again ground down by the Houston Astros, the buzz faded, and with it, sales. ”You take advantage of it when you can,” said a pained-but-still-philosophical Munson amid the emptying beer hall. As pumped as he’d been about the potential upside of an extended playoff run, he has a Mariners fan’s wired-in awareness of how fast it “could all fall apart if we get swept.”
Munson could be speaking for any number of Seattle area shops, bars, hotels and the like — businesses that are simultaneously hoping for an economic bump from a Mariners’ playoff run but which, after 21 years of baseball drought, are trying to keep their expectations in check.
“It’s weird with the playoffs because you never know [how long] they’re gonna be in there,” says Jessica Baker, retail manager at the Pike Place Market location of Chukar Cherries. Baker has already seen an increase in playoff-stoked customers this week — both Mariners and Astros fans, judging by the team swag they’re wearing — but, like other vendors, is still waiting to see “if we blow it out of the park this time.”
Make no mistake, any playoff run is good for business — and, anecdotally, at least, the Seattle area has already seen a sportsball boomlet that is at least partly Mariner-fueled.
There have been postseason watch parties at sundry local bars and restaurants — including the two big-screen fan-fests at T-Mobile Park for the Toronto wild card series.
There’s been a surge in downtown visitors this week, according to some businesses.
M’s fans also appear to be booking hotel rooms in downtown Seattle, based on the tighter supply of available rooms, according to VisitSeattle, a local trade group, and some hoteliers.
“We’ve seen pickup,” confirms Craig Schafer, whose two downtown hotels, Inn at the Market and Hotel Andra, enjoyed 20%-30% jump in bookings for this weekend soon after the Toronto win.
“You never know exactly what to attribute that to, but … whenever you have an event taking place in and around downtown, the stadiums or Climate Pledge [Arena] or whatever, business picks up,” Schafer adds.
Just how big that impact could be across Seattle is probably impossible to gauge.
One obvious unknown: the M’s themselves. The team could collapse again on Saturday and be done with the 2022 season. Or could pull out a 1995-esque miracle and win all three home games, and then go on to dominate the rest of the postseason and emerge as the Chicago Bulls of baseball. Or some combination thereof.
There’s also the difficulty of calculating the economic impacts of sporting events in a busy metro area that also has a ton of other things going on — Seahawks, say, or Oktoberfest.
Another confounding variable: Does that beer or hotel reservation you’re going to have Saturday because of the M’s game represent a leisure expenditure you might have made anyway?
That same-dollar dynamic is especially notable with local sports fans, who might have gone out this weekend even without an elongated baseball season, according to Thomas Smith, an expert in sports economics at Emory University in Atlanta who has studied the economic impacts of sports.
If it’s “locals spending their money, then it just kind of circulates from one venue to another,” Smith says. By contrast, dollars spent by out-of-town fans, Smith says, tend to reflect money “drawn from somewhere else.”
Still, Seattle businesses shouldn’t count on a baseball bonanza.
An analysis Smith did of last year’s World Series, which Atlanta took from Houston four games to two, predicted that the Atlanta area economy would see $5 million to $10 million in extra economic activity with each home game.
That’s not nothing — but even if the Mariners were to bring home a similar championship bounty to Seattle, it would represent a tiny fraction of the roughly $650 million that, based on a calculation by the Downtown Seattle Association, downtown Seattle would generate on its own over the same three-day period.
And even a modest bonus like that isn’t really possible until, and unless, the M’s advance past the first few playoffs hurdles, Smith warns. Seattle would “have to get deep into the playoffs in order to have any kind of any [economic] effect that would resonate at all,” Smith said.
Munson agrees. Regardless of the sport, any playoff-related sales bump is modest early in a run — he reckons sales have tripled during each playoff series so far this season. But a certain point, he says, the buzz and sales hit “exponential growth.”
And therein lies the rub.
To capitalize on that possible growth, businesses need to be ready for a boom in business. Shops need a stack of product on hand. Bars and restaurants need to be staffed up and fully stocked.
For Thursday’s watch party, Queen Anne Beerhall owner Justin Andrews had more than twice the staff of a normal weekday afternoon shift. And because he gets one delivery a week, he also had to order a lot more food and beer — around $15,000 more — “because if we end up playing three games this weekend, which is very possible, we’re going to run out of stuff,” Andrews says.
It’s a risk, Andrews concedes, but he sees it as part of a larger effort to build a long-term fan base. However this season ends, the Mariners are “going to have high hopes and high expectations going into next season,” Andrews says. “The bandwagon still has a lot of seats.”
At the Chukar Cherries stand, Baker was also calculating how to prepare for a any Mariners playoff bump — albeit with a slightly more complicated concern.
Although Baker expects extra business before and after Saturday’s game, she also has to prepare for a plunge business once the game itself starts “because everyone’s going down to that side of town to the game or to the bars or whatever.”
Simply Seattle’s Munson has his own approach to hedging the economic risk of an abbreviated playoff run.
He prints only a certain number of playoff shirts, but keeps a stock of blank T-shirts in a local warehouse so “if something happens,” he can quickly spin up either a new product or print more of an existing one.
More broadly, like most Seattle businesses with a sports connection, Munson doesn’t bet the business on a single team or season. Instead, he’s diversified across the Seattle sports universe and around the entire year.
“If we lose on Saturday, it’s over,” he says, matter-of-factly. “So you just can’t build, like, your whole business around winning the World Series.”
And anyway, he says, the 2022 baseball season has already been way better than average, so however far the team gets in the playoffs, it will be a win.
Still, in the aftermath of Thursday’s loss, it didn’t feel like a win. Fans steamed out of the beerhall, and most walked right by the Simply Seattle pop-up. No one, it seemed, wanted a tee or a hat for an upstart team on the brink of elimination.
But then came Bryant Worthy, who stopped by to snag a T-shirt for his losing Mariners, and made no apology for it. Instead, the lifelong Seattle resident and die-hard M’s fan offered what could well be the business model for any Seattle shop, bar or other businesses hoping, someday, or for a real Mariners run.
“I grew up in Seattle, and we’ve been watching for years without going to playoffs,” Worthy said. “But we’re still here.”