Players And Teams Pledge to Help Thousands of Part-Time Arena Employees

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  • The Bulls and the Blackhawks combined will pay about $3.5 million to cover lost wages for United Center part-time workers for the remaining regular-season games.
  • More than 2,800 hourly event staff are impacted by the suspension of sporting events at Los Angeles’s Staples Center.
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Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The suspension of almost every major professional sports league hit hard for many of the athletes impacted – but the hits are harder for even larger numbers of hourly employees whose pay is impacted as a result of the coronavirus-related cancellations. 

Thousands of non-salaried staffers will lose wages with the NBA and NHL taking a hiatus of at least 30 days. The MLB has postponed the start of its season, as has MLS, the PGA, and more. March Madness, which typically utilizes dozens of venues across the country that hire additional workers to host the tournament, has been canceled completely. 

Compensation of those hourly employees now without work has become a national conversation, with individual players, teams, and owners throughout the NBA and NHL stepping up to help mitigate some of the financial losses their employees are facing. 

And despite generous donations from individuals, most part-time employees who work games for any of the NBA’s 30 or NHL’s 31 teams are still without a paycheck during the pandemic.

Rocky Wirtz and Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the NHL’s Blackhawks and NBA’s Bulls, respectively, as well as part-owners of the United Center, said that combined, the two teams will pay about $3.5 million to cover lost wages for United Center part-time workers for the remaining 14 combined regular-season games.

Los Angeles’s teams – the Clippers, Kings, Lakers and Staples Center – created a unified fund to provide financial support to more than 2,800 active hourly event staff impacted by the suspension of sporting events at Staples Center. However, Staples Center owner AEG declined to disclose financial estimates on the cost of covering those employees.

Ushers, security officers, ticket sellers, ticket takers, parking attendants, merchandise staff, food and beverage employees, housekeeping and operations staff and stagehands, among others are all without events to work, as are the employees of agencies within arenas including certain concessions stands, clothing retailers and more.

HBSE Co-Founders Josh Harris and David Blitzer were the first in NHL team leadership to publicly support part-time employees financially, committing to paying HBSE’s Prudential Center and New Jersey Devils’ part-time and event day employees through March. The same pledge was made for their 76ers employees.

Although the organization declined to disclose the total number of part-time employees impacted by the hiatuses, they did say it was in the “hundreds.”

The Prudential Center hosts over 175 live events annually, 10 of which were scheduled for the month of March.

“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,” Harris said. “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.”

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was one of the first to publicly state that impacted personnel won’t be left out to dry by his team. He initially promised support when the suspension of the NBA season was first announced and said Wednesday he planned to put a program in place in the coming days to financially support his arena workers. Cuban will also reimburse team affiliated employees who shop at local small businesses to help the local economy survive.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love was one of the first individuals to help financially, committing $100,000 in support of Cleveland’s arena and support staff that “had a sudden life shift due to the suspension of the NBA season.” 

Others were quick to follow. 

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo tweeted, “Me and my family pledge to donate $100,000 to the Fiserv Forum staff” during a time that was “bigger than basketball.” 

Pistons forward Blake Griffin announced his own $100,000 donation to the staff of Little Caesars Arena and Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson announced on Instagram he will cover the salaries of Smoothie King Center workers for 30 days. 

Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who became the first NBA player to test positive for coronavirus, is donating $200,000 to the employee relief fund at Vivint Smart Home Arena alongside $300,000 in additional coronavirus related donations. 

Those donations, however, will only cover a small portion of the paychecks.

Understanding this, other teams also followed Dallas and New Jersey’s lead.

The Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center also took a similar step, committing to provide relief to hourly employees for the paychecks they would have earned if Brooklyn Nets regular season games and non-Nets events at Barclays Center were to continue as originally scheduled. The plan will cover the period from now until the end of May unless the events are rescheduled before that, the organization said.

“It is our goal to alleviate the hit to household cash flow from work stoppage for people impacted so they can pay for necessary expenses such as rent, utilities, food and daily necessities. We want to let our Barclays Center staff know that nobody is left behind and we are in this together,” the organization said in a statement.

The Warriors announced that the franchise’s owners, players, and coaches will contribute $1 million to a disaster relief fund for Chase Center employees, and the Cavaliers said they would pay their hourly and event staff as if every game/event had been played. 

The Hawks, who have two pay periods coming up, intend to pay employees who were planning or were scheduled to work during that time, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told the AJC

“This is how, in my opinion, good business should be run,” Hawks owner Tony Ressler told the publication. “We want them to know that we’re committed to them, just as we want them to be committed to us. It seems to most of us it’s just the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s ever been a debate in our shop. Frankly, I’m proud of that. We’re thrilled to do it. We expected to do it.”

The DeVos Family, owners of the Orlando Magic, announced the funding of a $2 million compensation fund for Orlando Magic, Amway Center, Lakeland Magic, and Orlando Solar Bears hourly workers for games and time missed during the COVID-19 suspension on Monday, adding that individual Magic players have also approached the organization and will provide additional financial assistance.

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Approximately 1,800 part-time employees will receive paychecks for missed games through what would have been the end of the regular season based on data related to previous individual games worked, the team said in a release.

But not every organization has been as generous. 

Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, said the 1,200 part-time workers at Bell MTS Place would “work when we work” and will not get paid in the interim.

After being publicly shamed, True North has since reversed its stance, stating that approximately 1,050 part-time arena, theatre and store employees forced to miss shifts because the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose are on pause will be paid for their missed shifts, at least through the end of March.           

If the suspended seasons’ resume and games are rescheduled, opportunities for those employees to work will return. If the seasons or games are canceled completely, the work will not come back for the team and venue employees who are not salaried.