Coronavirus sports shutdown will hurt least-paid first, because that’s how everything works these days

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 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:

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.

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10 comments on “Coronavirus sports shutdown will hurt least-paid first, because that’s how everything works these days

  1. “These days”

    When exactly were the days when economic dislocations, disasters and other bad things didn’t hurt those with the least income/resources first? Back in the halcyon days of the 900s, where the rich hid in castles while Magyars and Vikings raped and pillaged the little folk? Or the 1700s where they literally slaved away on plantations? Or maybe in the coal mines of the early 1900s?

    Because I am pretty sure that has generally been the default condition in human society.

    And in a more tautological sense is literally what it means to be “least paid”. Pay is only worth anything because you can trade it for things, and the things most people trade it for first are food security, personal security, property security, housing, healthcare etc. So by definition the people with the least are going to be the most impacted. That is just how it is. Acting like it is news seems like so subtle argument for communism or something. And you see this all the time in the media, not just from you.

    “Recent study finds that the poorest in XYZ county live in the shittest housing”. You think? You were expecting a situation where somehow people who made substantially more than them were just getting single rooms SROs or roommates for giggles, while they lefts the condos and mansions to the poor?

    Anyway, you have a problem with where the floor is in our society, say that. But don’t act like there is some special “these days” problem. Or like the vulnerability of the least well off is some kind of shock. That is what being least well off IS.

    And try to recognize that however high the floor is, the people on it will always be “on the floor” since that is what it means.

    1. I am not going to try to characterize Neil’s argument for him here (that’s his job!), but the way I read it he is talking about the special funding bills that will be passed, not the natural operation of ‘devil take the hindmost’ capitalism.

      There is a difference between Rockefeller using the incredible advantage he created for himself (through highly suspect means in many cases) to defend his position or become even richer, and what we see now… which is that even when gigantic businesses with massively wealthy owners who hold every advantage that there is fail, the taxpayers comes to bail them out – often despite getting no help themselves and losing their houses in the process.

      The robber barons were absolutely robber barons. But until the first of the billionaire bailouts (which IMO would be the S&L bailouts of the 1980s) we hadn’t seen welfare for billionaires like this.

      Another example: How many times have we heard about how a school lunch or income supplement program would be prohibitively expensive (at $1-2Tr)? Yet just last week a $1.5T stimulus was magically created out of nothing to help not coronavirus victims or malnourished American children in poverty, but the financial sector.

      That isn’t unfettered capitalism, it’s unfettered capitalism with a backstop for the rich should they encounter difficulty (or just inconvenience) paid for by the poor.

      Which means it’s not capitalism anymore, it’s something else.

      1. Well said John.
        “The upper class: keep all of the money & pay none of the taxes.
        The middle class: pay all of the taxes & do all of the work.
        The poor: exist just to scare the shit out of the middle class.” — George Carlin

      2. I don’t disagree with any of that John. And I am incredibly anti corporate welfare. To the extent I even have two t shirts I wear regularly that make fun of the financial and car sector bailouts from a few years ago.

        I am just sick of the article format “turns out people on the bottom economically have bottom tier x”. Well no shit!

    2. Yeah, as John points out, there are a couple of extra thumbs on the scale the last 30-40 years.

    3. It’s called an “oligarchy.” Per Mirriam Webster:

      1. Government by the few
      2. A government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.

  2. Somehow, sports teams are going to figure out how to use this (temporary) stoppage as a means to cadge more subsidies out of taxpayers. And there won’t be a shortage of politicians ready and willing to help them out.

    1. Absolutely true, Dave. A friend of mine and I were just discussing the socalled “assistance” packages that have been created by various governments around the world.

      You just KNOW that all these billions will be targetted to businesses that, while hurt, frankly could survive without the bailout. They will not be made available to most of the people who actually need them.

  3. Does anyone know if the MiLBers are getting their airfare home covered at least? I had no idea they weren’t paid for spring training games. That’s pretty brutal, but when it’s all said & done, I’d trade places with them in a second. They’ll be getting paid to play baseball. Hell, I’d play MLB just for the meal money alone.

    1. Yes, they are. Teams paid their airfare plus a small amount of spending money ($400-$800). I flew out of Phoenix late Friday night and the gentlemen ahead of me in the security line was a pitcher in the Seattle organization. Apparently the team told them earlier in the day they could go home and most players decided to go.

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