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US sports team owners, athletes step up to cover lost income of part-time workers

A vending kiosk is closed prior to the Detroit Red Wings playing against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on March 12, 2020 (Credit: Getty Images)

A number of US pro sports teams’ owners and athletes are making significant financial pledges to help arena workers and support staff cope with the financial effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative was started by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the immediate aftermath of the National Basketball Association season being suspended last week.

Since then, a number of teams have followed suit to help the thousands of workers affected by the cancellation and postponement of hundreds of sporting events across numerous leagues in the coming weeks and months. The employees range from ushers, concession vendors, ticket-takers, and game-night performers.

“We will pay them as if the games happened,” Cuban told The Associated Press.

Among the NBA teams who have pledged to help temporary staff are the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls.

The ownership groups of the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, and Detroit Red Wings, as well as Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United, among others, have also followed suit.

“Our teams, our cities and the leagues in which we operate are a family, and we are committed to looking out for one another,” Devils co-owner Josh Harris said.

A number of superstar athletes have also individually donated funds as well, including NBA players Kevin Love, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Zion Williamson and Blake Griffin, as well as Carlos Correa from Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros.

“This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis,” Williamson wrote on Instagram.

Most notably, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has donated more than $500,000 to support health services in the US and France, his home country, and employees of the team impacted by the coronavirus. Gobert became the first NBA player to be diagnosed with the virus, which led to the league suspending play for at least 30 days.

Gobert last week apologized for his “careless” behavior, in which he made a deliberate point of touching every microphone and recording device during a media availability, in an apparent act of fearlessness to the virus outbreak. He called the donations a “small token that reflect my appreciation and support for all those impacted and are the first of many steps I will take to try and make a positive difference.”

Despite the cancellation or postponement of most of the major sporting events in North America late last week, the effects of the coronavirus continued to be felt over the weekend.

The Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York, temporarily closed to the public, as did the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

The baseball shrine is experiencing is currently in its seasonal slow point, as its annual attendance of about 275,000 is heavily concentrated in the spring and summer. But the institution is expected a historic-level turnout for Induction Weekend in July for its 2020 class of honorees that includes current Miami Marlins chief executive and former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter.

It is not known whether the ongoing public health crisis will impact that event, or Hall functions scheduled for before that such as the annual Hall of Fame Classic in May, a game and home run hitting contest in Cooperstown involving recently retired MLB stars.

“This precautionary measure [to close] is being implemented in accordance with recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and government officials to limit opportunities for large gatherings and the further spread of the COVID-19 virus,” the Hall said.

The Pac-12 Conference cancelled all spring sports and championships until at least March 29, while the smaller Southland Conference announced a similar move.

Liga MX, which has been one of the few global soccer leagues continuing to play, announced it would be suspending the season after the weekend’s fixtures ended on Sunday evening.

The gambling industry was hit too in the absence of any sports to bet on and sportsbooks being forced to close due to state-by-state social distancing measures. The Wynn Las Vegas casino has closed its sportsbook and poker room for an undetermined amount of time, while MGM Resorts International announced it will close all its Las Vegas properties for an indefinite period.

If Las Vegas casinos continue with shutdowns, that could subsequently lead to a postponement of the 2020 National Football League draft planned for there next month.

Elsewhere, race track Churchill Downs said it will make announcement on the timing of this year’s Kentucky Derby in the coming days. The 146th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for May 2.

The $700,000 Sunland Derby on March 22 in New Mexico, which is one of the prep races for the Kentucky Derby, has been called off, according to the El Paso Times.

The Circuit of the Americas has announced it is closing indefinitely. The motorsport race track, in Austin, Texas, was due to host the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas on April 5 and the IndyCar Challenge on April 26, which have been cancelled. It is also home to the United Soccer League Championship team Austin Bold, whose league season has been suspended.

The ECHL, a mid-level professional ice hockey league across the US and Canada, cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 season. The ECHL is a tier below the American Hockey League.

Super League team Toronto Wolfpack has stood down its entire playing squad and cancelled training after four players showed mild symptoms of coronavirus. It means the team’s next game, against Wakefield on March 22, is almost certain to be postponed or cancelled.

It is now possible the remainder of the Super League season, which is continuing at present, could be suspended.

The Rugby Football League’s Challenge Cup sixth-round draw was due to take place in New York on Monday but it will now take place in England. A team from New York City is poised to join the competition in 2021 and the third-tier League 1 in 2022.

In the retail industry, leading sports apparel and shoe manufacturer Nike announced it was closing all of its stores in the US, as well as other parts of the world, through March 27. Workers will still be paid in full during this period, CNBC reported.

US sports broadcasters are also trying to creatively fill their schedules in the absence of any meaningful live sports worldwide. Beginning on Monday, cable network NBCSN will extend its simulcast coverage of British sports channel Sky Sports News to between four and six hours on weekdays. NBCSN has simulcast Sky Sports News between 11am-12pm ET during midweek since February 2019.

On social media, a number of Major League Soccer teams broadcast esports simulations of their scheduled weekend games on their official channels in an attempt to say active.