As pretty much everything in the world shuts down for the foreseeable future — you can still go out to restaurants in California, but at the rate things are moving, that could no longer be the case by the time I’m finished typing this sentence — attention is beginning to shift to the monumental economic fallout of pulling the brakes on sports and other industries. While most players are expecting to get paid during however long this sports stoppage last (more on that in a bit), all the part-time hot dogs salespeople, custodial staff, and other workers who make games possible are pretty much screwed, leading some to note the irony of cities having given teams stadium funds specifically on the premise that it would help these people earn a living:
The public are funding $290 million of the Flames' new arena. Approximately 1750 employees are impacted by the Flames not covering their shifts during this COVID cancellation.
For every employee the Flames are turning their backs on now, taxpayers are giving them $166,000.
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 14, 2020
The Calgary Flames, to their credit (or out of shame), eventually promised to pay arena workers, at least for shifts that had already been scheduled. But the response from the rest of the sports world has been mixed at best:
- The owners of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings have set up a $1 million fund to pay part-time staffers for at least the next month.
- Owners of several NBA teams (the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, and Brooklyn Nets, among others) have committed to ensuring that their arena workers get paid during the sports stoppage.
- The Phoenix Suns owners are paying everyone for two whole hours of work, with more to come later, maybe.
- The Vancouver Canucks owners have promised to “help” part-time workers based on “individual need.”
- Other NHL team owners are in various states of figuring out what to do.
- The Toronto Blue Jays owners are joining with other Toronto franchises to set up a fund to pay part-timers, while the Baltimore Orioles are still trying to “determine solutions to a myriad of matters over an extended period of time as this public health situation — one unique and unprecedented in our lifetimes — unfolds,” and Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten said, “We’re looking at ways to help people get through these times. But we don’t have a plan just yet.”
- Athletes from NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson to Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer to 77-year-old baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, have committed to raising donations to help laid-off part-time sports workers, which immediately made me think of this.
Minor-league baseball players, meanwhile, are equally if not more screwed: Already forced to play spring training games for no pay, they were immediately locked out of practice facilities, and some turned to working as food delivery drivers to try to make some cash. And they can’t even collect unemployment, because they’re technically still employed by their MLB clubs, just not getting paid anything.
The sports stoppage is going to wreak havoc across the entire sports industry, obviously, though a whole lot of the details still need to be figured out. Can TV networks employ “force majeure” clauses to stop making payments to leagues for games that have been canceled? Can teams stop paying major-league players during this time? (The NHL’s union contract says players still get paid regardless, the NBA’s doesn’t, and MLB’s says the commissioner can “suspend” contracts during a national emergency.) What happens to minor-league franchises, and franchises in less deep-pocketed leagues like women’s soccer, and any other teams that don’t have the massive cash reserves that most of the Big Four sports teams do?
All this and I haven’t even gotten to the impact on stadium construction, which so far continues apace but could grind to a halt soon if governments require an end to non-essential work, which building stadiums for the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Rams and Chargers would certainly qualify as. This could in turn delay those stadiums’ planned openings, though who knows if sports will even be able to return before live crowds in the fall at this point — the NBA is already reportedly considering playing out the rest of the season and the playoffs in smaller venues like practice facilities that could be used essentially as soundstages for televised sports. (I hereby nominate John Oliver’s formless void.)
This is all almost certainly going to require massive government action to sort out, as will all the other non-sports businesses that are going to have to go without income for the foreseeable future. This will inevitably mean picking winners and losers — do the makers of Purell get taxed to keep restaurants (and servers and kitchen staff) from going bankrupt en masse? — which, as this site has been documenting for 22 years now, is not something that governments have done an especially good job of in recent decades. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on how this all plays out and bring the news to you here; it’s not like any of us have much else to do, after all, at least until our jigsaw puzzle orders arrive in the mail.