It’s been a shocking week for sports fans in North America, as nearly every league, tournament, or other competition has been shut down indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while much of the publicity concerns what teams and athletes are doing, or how fans are coping, the reality is that another group is being hit even harder.
Pro sports teams employ a high number of game night staff who are paid an hourly wage. For example, the Golden State Warriors employee approximately 1,500 part-time employees for events at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
When games don’t happen, they don’t get paid.
That is, unless ownership decides to pay them anyway, which is something Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took the lead on this week.
"This is crazy. This can't be true. … It seemed more like out of a movie than reality."
—Mark Cuban explains his reaction to hearing that the NBA was suspending its season. pic.twitter.com/MHyrAD4D0f
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 12, 2020
As the Mavs played out the final NBA game before the league suspended play (news broke during their game), Cuban immediately vowed to do something for arena workers.
Mark Cuban has already started to put in a plan to help Mavericks employees who may be impacted by the NBA’s indefinite suspension of the season. pic.twitter.com/Cd7ABVjQdM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 12, 2020
“I reached out to the folks at the arena and our folks at the Mavs to find out what it would cost to financially support people that aren’t going to be able to come to work,” Cuban told reporters after Wednesday’s game. “You know, they get paid by the hour and this was their source of income. We’ll do some things there. We may ask them to go do some volunteer work in exchange, but we’ve already started the process of having a program in place.”
A few other NBA teams have since followed suit in one form or another, including the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings, and Detroit Pistons.
“We have a pretty clear set of priorities in this kind of remarkable time that we’re living through,” said Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. “Protecting our fans, protecting our employees, and protecting the reputation of our league, all of which is important, but let there be no confusion, that means taking care of all of our employees, our full-time, our part-time.”
After Cavaliers star Kevin Love pledged $100,000 to support Cleveland arena and support staff, the team has followed suit.
Thank you @kevinlove — coming through in the clutch 🙏
We’re behind you, as we also announced earlier today that we are compensating all of our @RMFieldHouse hourly and event staff team members as if every game and every event is still taking place!
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) March 12, 2020
“I’m concerned about the level of anxiety that everyone is feeling and that is why I’m committing $100,000 through the [Kevin Love Fund] in support of the [Cavs] arena and support staff that had a sudden life shift due to the suspension of the NBA season,” Love said on his personal Instagram page. “I hope that during this time of crisis, others will join me in supporting our communities.
Love’s generosity appears to have inspired reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has also pledged to donate $100,000 to Milwaukee Bucks arena staff.
It’s bigger than basketball! And during this tough time I want to help the people that make my life, my family’s lives and my teammates lives easier. Me and my family pledge to donate $100,000 to the Fiserv Forum staff. We can get through this together! 🙏🏽
— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) March 13, 2020
After Nets player Spencer Dinwiddie tweeted about taking care of non-salaried arena staff, team owner Joe Tsai responded by saying his organization is “working on a plan.”
— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) March 13, 2020
The Sacramento Kings have said that all part-time, hourly event staff “will be compensated” for the shifts they were scheduled to work in March.
We are committed to assisting all of our employees through this uncertain time. All part-time, hourly Kings event team members will be compensated for the shifts they were previously scheduled to work in March.
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 13, 2020
The Pistons have informed the Detroit Free Press that all of their employees, including hourly and part-time game day staff, will be paid during the hiatus.
Meanwhile, some NHL teams are starting to follow suit as well, according to reports.
The New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, and Nashville Predators have indicated that they will pay part-time staff, according to reports from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir and Eric Stephens, as well as Newschannel 5’s Steve Layman.
NJ owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer say they have committed to paying hourly/event staff for postponed @NJDevils games and Prudential Center events. “Employees are family…It’s important to band together and lift each other up during these times.”
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 13, 2020
Ted Leonsis informed Capital One Arena staff this morning that anyone scheduled to work an event – #Caps and Wizards games plus other events – through March 31 will be paid, a source tells me.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) March 13, 2020
Told that #NHLDucks owners Henry and Susan Samueli, who also own and manage Honda Center, will continue paying full-time and part-time employees who were scheduled to work at the arena through March 31.
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) March 13, 2020
Henry says #Preds event staff is what makes Bridgestone Arena so special, and without events for awhile they will be hurting. Says team will pay workers for any already scheduled shifts and will try to make a plan moving forward for other events lost. @NC5
— Steve Layman (@SteveLayman) March 12, 2020
Meanwhile, Ilitch Companies has announced they are setting up a $1 million fund to cover the wages of its part-time event staff for the teams they own, which includes the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and MLB’s Detroit Tigers.
We are committed to supporting our colleagues in this time of uncertainty. In light of the coronavirus and in conjunction with our partners, we are setting up a $1 million fund to cover the wages of our part-time event staff impacted by postponed events. https://t.co/G37FR5teK7
— Ilitch Companies (@IlitchCompanies) March 13, 2020
MLSE, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors, among many other professional sports franchises, says it is “finalizing programs to assist our part-time and event staff, made up of close to 4,000 dedicated event personnel.”
MLSE statement on suspension of NBA, NHL and MLS seasons. pic.twitter.com/remYl1rTyB
— MLSE PR (@MLSEPR) March 12, 2020
While some leagues have tried to give estimates on a return to action, the reality is that nobody is sure when that will happen. And for leagues like the NHL and NBA, whose seasons are in the stretch run, there’s a possibility that the remainder of their seasons could be cancelled entirely.
*Update: More teams and players have stepped up since original publication, according to reports, including Sergei Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the San Jose Sharks.
#FlaPanthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is going to donate $100,000 to make sure all part-time staff who work at BB&T Center get paid during this hiatus. His teammates will match that $100,000 with ownership putting in whatever else is needed. pic.twitter.com/SKNSrjrecO
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) March 13, 2020