The NHL schedule has been paused. The NBA schedule has been suspended. March Madness is now March sadness. The list of events being cancelled grows daily as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the sports world.
While players are being told to self quarantine and fans are being forced to release their passion elsewhere, what about hourly and event employees who do a lot of the arena work to keep things going? This staff of 1,500 to 2,000 people includes ushers, vendors, security personnel, clean-up crews, and maintenance workers. Many of them live paycheck to paycheck.
The good news is that many owners, and in some cases, players, have risen to the occasion, ensuring peace of mind for their out-of-work crew.
New Jersey Devils Step Up
The New Jersey Devils’ managing partners, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, stepped forward Friday with a firm commitment to help them out. “It’s important to band together and lift each other up during these times,” said Harris.
“We are incredibly grateful for the community of people that come together each game and event night to make the Prudential Center an unbelievably special place for our fans. We realize the suspension of our Devils games and concerts has created an unintended hardship for the men and women who provide for their families and believe our commitment to them in this unprecedented time is imperative.”
“For many of us as fans, it’s the people who work the games and concerts at Prudential Center that make the experience so incredible,” said Blitzer. “These are the folks that feel like family every time I step in the arena, so it’s natural to show our support and commitment through this gesture.”
Tampa Bay Lightning Step Up
Vinik Sports Group (VSG), which owns the Lightning, has stated they’ll pay part-time employees who were scheduled to work games and events through the end of March. This time frame coincides with the conclusion of the team’s regular season schedule as well as six NCAA Tournament games and miscellaneous events.
That’s just the beginning. The incredibly generous organization is launching VSG Cares, a program to provide assistance for both full- and part-time employees with immediate needs created by temporary financial hardships due to an emergency. They’ll provide aid including housing, utilities, food, and transportation to employees and their dependents.
“We pride outselves on doing the right thing for our employees, especially in times of need,” said VSG CEO Steve Griggs. “Jeff Vinik is a fantastic owner and we understand that our organization is where it is because of the people that work here. Our family is what makes our business so strong and during these uncertain times, we want to step forward and be there for these employees.” (from ‘Lightning’s Vinik Sports Group set to compensate Amalie Arena employees’, Tampa Bay Times – 3/13/20)
Washington Capitals Stepping Up
Though not completely confirmed, word is that Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has informed Capital One Arena staff Friday morning that anyone scheduled to work an event through the end of March would be paid.
Anaheim Ducks Step Up
Henry and Susan Samueli, who own the Anaheim Ducks and manage Honda Center, will continue paying full-time and part-time employees who were scheduled to work at the arena through the end of March.
Detroit Red Wings Step Up
Ilitch Holdings, Inc. committed $1 million to support their part-time event staff. The fund will cover one month’s wages for their arena staff that was scheduled to work any event that has been cancelled. This includes four Red Wing games, eight Piston games, six Detroit Tiger spring training baseball games and other events.
Philadelphia Flyers Stepping Up
Comcast, which owns the Flyers, has vowed to chip in and pay for all game-day employees who were originally scheduled to work Flyers, 76ers and Wings games that have now been postponed between through the end of March.
Pittsburgh Penguins Stepping Up
The Penguins have announced a plan to pay full and part-time arena/service employees who would otherwise lose income on regular season games due to the pause in the NHL season.
“The ushers, ticket takers, concession workers, cleaning staff and other arena workers are the backbone of a Penguins hockey game at PPG Paints Arena, and a big part of the Penguins’ family,” said David Morehouse, the team’s president and CEO.
The money to compensate these individuals will come from the Pittsburgh Penguins players, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.
San Jose Sharks Step Up
Sharks Sports & Entertainment will pay part-time employees at SAP Center who were scheduled to work Sharks and Barracuda games this month. The Sharks had three remaining home games. The Barracuda, the team’s AHL affiliate, had two games remaining.
Nashville Predators Step Up
Sean Henry, the Nashville Predators COO knows the Bridgestone Arena staff is a big part of the special in-game experience. Knowing they’ll be hurting, he stated the team will pay workers who were scheduled for shifts and are working on a plan moving forward for other events.
Toronto Maple Leafs Step Up
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), a professional sports and commercial real estate company based in Toronto that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors, among other professional sports franchises also has plans to support its event staff.
According to a statement, MLSE is “finalizing programs to assist our part-time and event staff, made up of close to 4,000 dedicated event personnel.”
Florida Panthers Step Up
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stated he is donating $100,000 to make sure all part-time staff who work at BB&T Center get paid during the hiatus. His teammates will match that $100,000 with ownership putting in whatever else is needed. Wow.
Panther ownership has pledged to make sure any further outstanding amounts are covered.
Winnipeg Jets Step Back
The owners of the Winnipeg Jets, True North Sports and Entertainment, released a statement saying they won’t layoff their full-time workers, but won’t pay part-time staff for games and events that have been cancelled.
“They work when we work,” said True North chairman Mark Chipman.
Now, consider this: the Winnipeg Jets are part-owned by David Thomson. Mr. Thomson is the richest man in Canada, worth about $37.8 billion. Not exactly a good look for the organization.
Calgary Flames Step Back
The Calgary Flames has informed hourly and event employees they will not be compensated for cancelled shifts moving forward.
NBA Owners and Players Stepping Up
Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks stated will continue to pay hourly arena workers during the NBA’s suspended schedule. Though he’s a billionaire, the Shark Tank investor knows it takes everyone pulling together for success. And that includes his event staff.
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 who aren’t going to be able to come to work — you know, they get paid by the hour, and this is 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. I don’t have any details to give, but it’s certainly something that’s important to me.— Mark Cuban
Bravo, Mr. Cuban.
Several other NBA teams have since followed Cuban’s lead, including the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers (thanks to forward Kevin Love), New Orleans Pelicans (through the generosity of Zion Williamson), Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks (courtesy of Giannis Antetokounmpo), and Detroit Pistons. The Portland Trail Blazers are also formulating a plan to pay their staff for the remaining nine home games.
Rallying in a Time of Need
It’s nice to see teams and players step up and take care of their extended family. In this time of uncertainty, they’re committed to standing with and supporting their dedicated and hardworking colleagues.
The compassion, sympathy and empathy shown are all meaningful gestures that will go far as days and weeks go by without sport. And they’re yet another opportunity to appreciate how the greater hockey family rallies together when times are tough.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”