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Monday, April 15, 2024

Arena and stadium staff out of work amid sports shutdown

How organizations and athletes plan to provide compensation for lost wages

As the nation continues to grapple with the unpredictable events brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of employees have been forced out of work with little to no knowledge of when they will receive their next paycheck. 

Among the staggering number of the recently unemployed are those who worked within stadiums and arenas, providing services ranging from concessions to security to ticket-taking. 

Due to the recent suspension of all sporting events, employees across the nation who relied on these jobs for income are now facing the harsh reality of not knowing how they will be able to pay rent or feed their families. 

The NBA, the first professional league to suspend its season, had originally estimated a hiatus of at least 30 days. But as the virus continues to spread throughout the U.S., it is beginning to look like sports are going to be suspended for much longer than initially predicted. For arena staff, this means a loss of income that will extend through several weeks, or maybe even months. 

Owners and athletes from different teams across multiple leagues, however, are responding to these events by providing compensation for these workers — a display of how the sports community is attempting to stick together in these uncertain times. 

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was one of the first major voices in the professional sports world to publicly express his desire to prioritize these workers right now. Just a few hours after the NBA suspended its season, Cuban explained during a press conference that he was already working on plans to pay the employees of the Mavericks’ home arena, the American Airlines Center, who would be impacted by the suspension. 

The Mavericks also announced that they would be reimbursing employees for any breakfast or lunch purchases made locally, in an attempt to not only provide financial support for their staff, but also for local restaurants that have been impacted by this crisis.  

Following Cuban’s press conference, other teams followed suit, coming forward, one after another, with plans to support the employees for their respective home venues. 

One of the more common ways that teams have been giving back to employees is through relief funds created for arena workers and those affected by the coronavirus in general. 

The Golden State Warriors were among the first to announce that ownership, players and coaches would be donating a total of $1 million to a disaster relief fund for workers at the Chase Center.

In some instances, different teams from the same city banded together to compensate those in need. In Los Angeles, the NBA’s Clippers and Lakers, along with the NHL’s Kings, created a fund to provide financial support for employees of their shared home arena, the Staples Center. These funds are meant to support the 2,800 hourly employees that run many different operations throughout the venue. 

The Toronto Raptors also joined forces with four other Toronto-based teams and will be contributing to their own fund for their respective arenas’ employees as well. 

The act of several teams working with one another in these difficult times indicates the importance of acknowledging each individual member of the sports community. Beyond the athletes, coaches and front office staff who are typically placed in the forefront of financial decisions, there are thousands of venue workers who provide event services that make game days possible. 

There are also a handful of owners who did not initially make the same decisions. Josh Harris, the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils of the NHL, had originally announced a reduction in salaries for arena employees, but almost immediately reversed his decision following pushback from fans and members of each organization. 

The Calgary Flames also initially told their employees that they will not be paid for the remaining season, but reversed their decision as well, announcing a compensation program. 

Controversial decisions like these have made many fans question why super-rich owners would be hesitant to provide assistance to the hourly staff who support their organizations daily. 

In addition to the actions being taken by owners, a number of athletes have stepped up to individually support arena staff out of their own pockets. 

Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, the first NBA player to test positive for coronavirus, has pledged to donate $500,000. Part of his donation will go toward arena employees while the remaining amount will go to families impacted by the virus in Utah, Oklahoma City and his home country of France. 

Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks were among the first set of players to come forward on their own and pledge their support. Each promised to donate $100,000 to compensate arena workers. 

Following his donation, Love expressed how important it is for players to look out for the employees and “be more than just athletes.” This prompted the Cavaliers to respond to Love’s decision by paying all arena workers’ wages as if the season was still being played, while the Bucks announced that their entire roster will also be contributing to cover their workers’ lost wages. 

“These are the folks who make our games possible,” said Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans as he announced a $100,000 donation in support of arena staff. 

Pelicans owner Gayle Benson followed this decision by donating $1 million in support of arena workers and coronavirus victims in the New Orleans area. 

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid also came forward amid his team’s uncertainty and promised $500,000 for medical relief within the local community and financial assistance for employees. His decision led to the Sixers contributing over $1 million in support of healthcare workers fighting COVID-19. 

In solidarity with the workers who provide them with memorable experiences during events, some fans have also come forward to help ease the pressure posed by financial uncertainty. In Boston, a group of fans created a GoFundMe page for TD Garden staff, which players have also donated to as their owners took the longest amount of time to come up with compensation plans. 

The start of the Major League Baseball season has also been postponed, and all 30 clubs quickly came together to donate $1 million each, providing a whopping $30 million for ballpark employees.  

College sports have also been significantly impacted, prompting the NCAA Board of Governors to vote unanimously to distribute $225 million to Division l members, specifically focusing on “using the distributions to aid college athletes during the uncertainty of the current environment.” 

Athletes who have had their seasons cut short will also be granted an additional season of competition, and the eligibility period for students who were in their last year will be extended. Those who decide to stay the extra season will have their financial aid or scholarships adjusted accordingly. 

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence also created a community relief fund to raise money for individuals with the coronavirus in Georgia and South Carolina. 

His original GoFundMe account was shut down by the university in compliance with NCAA rules that athletes cannot use their image for any form of crowdfunding. The NCAA responded promptly, and has altered its rules to allow Lawrence and any other student athletes to raise money for those with the virus.    

Fans, athletes and owners across the nation are now working to give back to those who dedicate endless hours to their teams throughout each season. 

While these are just a few of the wide range of organizations providing compensation in these unprecedented times, it showcases the importance of acknowledging and supporting every individual who may be struggling as a result of the coronavirus and of working together to provide any relief possible. 

Written by: Rain Yekikian  — sports@theaggie.org


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