Connect with us


Sports braces for COVID-19 wave by trying not to throw staff overboard



Mark Cuban was the first to see it.

The billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks was one of the first to react to the impact the suspension of the sports world would have on his employees who didn’t earn millions playing professional basketball.

He pledged to continue to pay the salary of event staff at American Airlines Arena — from security and parking, to housekeeping and entertainment — for as many games as the Mavs missed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Cuban, in turn, encouraged them to go out and volunteer in this time of uncharted crisis. And any of his employees who bought breakfast or lunch from local, independently owned restaurants, he would reimburse them — the idea being to help keep local businesses afloat.

Cuban recognized the base of the economic pyramid was at risk of collapsing, and has been busy working on solutions both macro and micro

since the battle to contain the COVID-19 virus has caused the sharpest economic downturn in history.

This was bookended by the 76ers’ disastrous announcement earlier this week that the Philadelphia NBA team was implementing salary cuts for employees, a move that rankled the team’s charitable stars and enraged a public sector, forcing a hasty backtrack.

The top-down responses have been varied across the sports world. In Germany, three teams have said their players would take reduced salaries to help keep their organizations whole. That hasn’t quite been the case in Barcelona, where a proposed 70 per cent slash of players’ salaries was rejected.

The UFC had crowed last week that, despite having to postpone three fight cards, it didn’t have to terminate employees — only to see its parent company do just that on Wednesday.

The economic impact caused by the global pandemic has been swift. In 2019, around 27,000 Canadians applied for Employment Insurance in one week in March. In the same period, a year later, that number reached 929,000.

Locally, the Vancouver Whitecaps, B.C. Lions and Vancouver Canucks have managed to avoid cuts to their staff or reduction in player wages. The Canucks and Whitecaps have also donated perishable food items to local food banks, with the Aquilini Investment Group also announcing a plan to support part-time arena staff affected by the playing freeze.

“Obviously, when you’re not playing games, you’re not broadcasting games, you’re not selling tickets. And when you’re not selling (food and beverage), it’s very, very difficult financially,” said Whitecaps CEO Mark Pannes.

“On one hand, we have a big structural set of costs, and on the other hand we don’t have the normal set of revenue. And it’s not just like that for us, right? I’m sure it’s like that for many, many businesses in Vancouver, in B.C., in Canada, within sports and within a whole host of industries.”

The MLS ownership structure — all teams and player contracts are centrally owned, with each team having an operator-investor — has made it easier for the league to handle the unexpected interruption of the season. Each team’s revenue and expenses differ drastically, with some owning facilities and running academies, and others not.

The league is still planning to resume a full 34-game schedule, and as such, the Whitecaps are still taking automatic season ticket payments, though Pannes said that’s something they are going to be examining moving forward.

“How can we put something in place that has optionality and flexibility, and how can we do it in a way that we can communicate it back internally … that can be accurate and kind of take the boil off some of the anxiety that people may have?” said Pannes.

“So we’re working through all that in real time. There’s no playbook to this, there’s just no right answers ready. We’re trying to do the best we can to get a good result. We’re going back and trying to fix stuff that we may not have got right or (things) that we did and we’d like to try again.

“… We’re trying to think through as many different possibilities as possible, and how we would address them, and at the same time, you know, you can go down rabbit holes where you just get too lost. So it’s really running a balance between planning for what we have in front of us right now, and also trying to look around the corner a little bit to see what might be coming.”

The CFL doesn’t have the luxury of a one-entity ownership system, but it does have some wiggle room when it comes to schedule flexibility. On Tuesday the league postponed its mid-April global draft, but the CFL draft (April 30) and training camps — the Lions are scheduled to start theirs May 13 in Kamloops — are still on, for now.

With the vast majority of team income tied to the broadcasting deal with TSN, there is the ability to make up revenue, even if games end up being played behind closed doors, although the players’ union is preparing its members for a worst-case scenario.

The Canucks, with the deep-pocketed Aquilinis and a sizable — and loyal — fan base should weather the storm without difficulty.

The province’s five WHL teams won’t see any playoff hockey this year, but should be fiscally sound enough to survive to 2021.

The Fraser Valley Bandits are part of the Canadian Elite Basketball League, which follows a similar centrally-owned structure to MLS, with all the teams owned by Richard Petko.

The small club topped the league in attendance last year, and was set to start play in May. But the CEBL isn’t immune to the COVID-19 impact — on Wednesday it temporarily laid off all its ticket-sales staff.

CLICK HERE to report a typo.

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


MLB players push back on leaving families behind for season in Arizona



Baseball’s proposed idea to bring all 30 teams to Arizona to play in empty spring training stadiums was greeted with skepticism from players, some of whom can’t imagine agreeing to be separated from their families for the duration of the season.

The idea, as outlined in multiple reports, would call for players and staff to be quarantined away from their families in hopes of keeping the league in a coronavirus-free bubble. Teams would go from hotels to buses to stadiums while undergoing regular testing in an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading.

“I definitely think this is just a first idea that’s being thrown around,” Diamondbacks catcher Stephen Vogt said.

“Obviously, I’m not a fan of the idea of being away from my family for four months. If anything, what I took away from this initial proposal is that it shows MLB’s dedication to just, hey, we’re trying to do whatever we can to get the longest season possible for the fans, the players and everyone who works in the industry of baseball.”

CORONAVIRUS & SPORTS: Get the latest news and information right in your inbox. Sign up here.

DON’T DO IT: MLB’s crazy Arizona plan could have terrible consequences

Sources said MLB and the players association are discussing a variety of possible solutions, with the league issuing a statement on Tuesday morning insisting it had not settled on a specific option or developed a detailed plan for the season.

One player wondered if he could see his contract voided if he refused to go along with the idea. Another said he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to leave his wife at home after they recently welcomed a new baby.

Not everyone was opposed.

“It has merit, just a lot more logistics to be worked out,” one player wrote in a text message. “But if that what it takes, then I’m in. I doubt it would be (away from families) for four months, but I can imagine for six weeks.”

In a report on Tuesday, The Athletic cited sources that said families “might be permitted” to stay with players, though that would further complicate the sport’s ability to keep its players insulated.

Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta said he was going crazy without baseball and assumes most other players felt the same, but he also did not think this idea was the right one.

“We just have to wait a little bit and keep praying that the situation calms down, keep following the rules and hopefully the virus goes away and we can start playing games as soon as possible,” Peralta said. “That idea, you’re going to throw a bunch of ideas out there and see which one is going to click. Hopefully, it’s just an idea and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Said Vogt: “I think we all want to play and we want to play as many games as possible, but we also want to do what’s best for ourselves and our families. … We’re blessed that we have the ability to play this game for a living, but at what cost would we be wanting to do it?”

Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.


Continue Reading


They Played Sports at the Highest Level. Now Their Job Is to Save Lives.



The four-time Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser of Canada was around 10 years old when she first had the idea of being both a professional hockey player and a doctor. Wickenheiser, now 41, grew up in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, a town of fewer than 2,000 people and less than two square miles in size. A young girl in the area had been severely injured after getting hit by a grocery delivery van.

“I remember going to the hospital with all the kids in the neighborhood and just being really inspired and intrigued by the doctors and nurses that were taking care of her,” Wickenheiser said in a telephone interview.

“That’s how it all started. At that age, I had two goals: to play for the Edmonton Oilers and to go to Harvard Medical School.”

After retiring in 2017 as Team Canada’s career scoring leader, Wickenheiser enrolled in medical school at the University of Calgary, then took on the role as an assistant director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018. She was in the midst of her clinical rotation in emergency rooms around Toronto two weeks ago, when medical students and trainees were pulled from their assignments as the number of coronavirus cases in the country reached a critical point.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been more than 1.3 million coronavirus cases and 81,106 virus-related deaths recorded worldwide. More than 30 percent of those diagnosed cases are in the United States. Canada is home to more than 17,000 cases, or just over 1 percent.


Medical students aren’t allowed to directly treat patients who have contracted Covid-19, so Wickenheiser has been gathering personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., for front line workers and helping with contact tracing of diagnosed patients to track the spread of the virus.

“I remember when the first Covid patient came through the emergency room doors in the hospital I was at, one of the doctors I was with did not physically want to go into the room,” she said. “They didn’t feel protected or that they had enough P.P.E. and they didn’t really know what they were dealing with.”

One morning in early March, after a particularly unsettling shift, Wickenheiser, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, was stunned to read that the I.O.C. still was planning for the Summer Olympics to continue as scheduled in Tokyo starting in July.

“I kept on seeing this blatant, ‘We are going ahead no matter what,’ kind of attitude and I just thought, ‘How can you be speaking?’” she said. “It was making me crazy. Every day I was losing sleep listening to this dialogue.”

Wickenheiser voiced her concerns to Canadian and international Olympic leaders before publishing a statement to her social media accounts on March 17 imploring the I.O.C. to make a decision about postponing or canceling the Games.

“I think the I.O.C. insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity,” she wrote. “We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hours, let alone in the next three months.”

Five days later, the Canadian Olympic Committee announced it would not send the country’s athletes to Tokyo in 2020 and called on the I.O.C. to postpone the games, a decision the I.O.C. made with the Japanese government on March 24.

Wickenheiser has since been in contact with the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada to help promote social distancing advisories to the public and has contributed to his #plankthecurve social media campaign.

She isn’t the only elite athlete now on the front lines in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.


Continue Reading


U.F.C. 249, Skirting Coronavirus Limits, Is Set for Tribal Land in California



“The commission echoes the guidance of California Governor Gavin Newsom, the Department of Public Health, local health officials, and the recommendations of the Association of Ringside Physicians regarding the cancellation of events where people may be at risk of contracting Covid-19 and encourages the industry to do the same,” the California athletic commission said in a statement. “The commission will not participate in the U.F.C. event on April 18, regardless of the event location.”

U.F.C. 249 was originally scheduled to be held on April 18 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and to be headlined by a lightweight championship bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson — one of the U.F.C.’s most anticipated matchups in years. But after Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York restricted mass gatherings and the New York State Athletic Commission announced it wouldn’t authorize the event, White said the U.F.C. would go forward at a different location.

On Monday, White said that Nurmagomedov, now at home in Dagestan, Russia, was out of the fight and would be replaced by Justin Gaethje in the interim lightweight title matchup. Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been scheduled to fight each other five times since 2015, but each plan fell apart because of injury, illness and now the pandemic.

To book any fights involving athletes who cannot travel to the United States, White has said he secured an island but has not disclosed where.

Though the U.F.C. produces all of its own events, the April 18 pay-per-view event will be sold by ESPN+, ESPN’s streaming service, and the preliminary card will be scheduled for one of ESPN’s cable channels. An ESPN spokeswoman declined to comment on Tuesday.

Tribal casinos, including the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, regularly host mixed martial arts and boxing matches with the full support and participation of state athletic commissions. World Extreme Cagefighting, a mixed martial arts company founded in 2001, held most of its first two dozen events at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort. It was purchased in 2006 by Zuffa, then the parent entity of the U.F.C., and merged with the U.F.C. in 2010.

But tribal casinos also sometimes host mixed martial arts events that cannot be sanctioned elsewhere, a form of venue shopping that most state athletic commissions view unfavorably.


Continue Reading


We use cookies in order to give you the best possible experience on our website. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies.