On Wednesday, it was announced that the Warriors would be the first NBA team to play a game in an empty arena when they were to face the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night. This comes after San Francisco officials issued an order that no gatherings of more than 1,000 people are to take place in an effort to flatten the curve and limit the spread of COVID-19, aka novel coronavirus. It followed the suggestion of a growing number of health officials to do so, to slow the spread and work to ease the strain that could come on hospitals, doctors, and nurses should there be a tremendous spike in confirmed cases.
After Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus — and later teammate Donovan Mitchell did the same — the NBA was left with no choice but to suspend the season for an indefinite period of time. The door remains open to finish the season, possibly on a truncated schedule, but in the meantime, games will be postponed or outright canceled until things have been brought under control both within the NBA and around the country as a whole.
There has been ample discussion of what this means for the league and teams financially. It’s something Bob Myers and Rick Welts addressed on Wednesday, noting the Warriors are likely to lose “tens of millions of dollars” in revenue from ticket sales to in-arena purchases. For a franchise worth $4 billion, that just bragged it rakes in more revenue than the Lakers or Knicks, it’s hard to be too worried about their bottom line. Players will get paid, executives will get paid, tickets can be refunded to fans, but some of the rapid growth of revenue for the teams and league will take a hit and the salary cap will be adjusted accordingly.
Far more important than the prospects of games being canceled or the potential for the salary cap to dip due to lost revenue are the thousands of people that rely on income from working at games. With arenas operating with only “essential” employees, there will be many — the Warriors estimate approximately 1,500 at Chase Center alone — that will be out of work for the games played behind closed doors.
Rick Welts: "We have 1,500 part-time employees. … For me, this is the hardest part. We do have a number of people who live paycheck to paycheck who will be impacted."
— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) March 11, 2020
Owner Joe Lacob spoke with The Athletic and highlighted the concerns of the far-reaching impact of these shutdowns.
“Honestly, I don’t know yet. The economic impact of all this is monumental,” he said. “We just lost virtually all of our revenues for the foreseeable future. But we have huge expenses that aren’t going away. I feel for these part-time employees and local restaurants and Uber drivers and all of the service people that make their living in and around events like ours. So many small businesses in the city of San Francisco will be impacted by this series of events today.”
It’s not possible for the league or teams to take care of everyone at restaurants in the area and Uber drivers, but with a franchise valued at $4 billion, paying those arena employees at the Chase Center out for their shifts would be a relative drop in the bucket, even understanding the losses they’re facing. For the Warriors, 1,500 workers making minimum wage ($15.59 per hour in San Francisco) for eight hours (which is likely longer than some work at games) would cost $187,080. Now, there are surely some that make more but some that work fewer than eight hours, so the figure may be slightly more, but even when factoring in the potential loss of revenue in the tens of millions of dollars, it seems like it would be a really easy PR win for a team to take care of its low-wage workers who rely so heavily on that income to make rent and may live paycheck to paycheck.
Luckily, some owners have already come to that conclusion on their own. Mark Cuban, unprompted in an interview on ESPN during Mavs-Nuggets, brought up the arena workers and said he was going to put a program in place to take care of them. He elaborated on that further, although no specific details are available at this time, after the game.
“I reached out … to find out what it would cost to financially support people who aren’t going to be able to come to work.”
–Mark Cuban on his plan for Mavericks employees during the NBA suspension pic.twitter.com/McOl1vHUqO
— ESPN (@espn) March 12, 2020
Hawks owner Tony Ressler will likewise follow suit, as he told The Athletic via email, “We are indeed and feel strongly it’s both the right thing to do and good business.” The Cavaliers likewise announced a plan is in place to do the same for workers from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The @cavs announced their protective measures during the league's suspension and also said they are "developing a compensation plan to continue paying our event staff and hourly workforce that is impacted with the changes to our regular event schedule."
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) March 12, 2020
These are workers that are vital to the success of the franchise bringing in the massive amounts of revenue, and in a public health crisis such as this one, it’s hard to not be disappointed at statements from such a wealthy franchise as the Warriors offering, effectively, thoughts and prayers to those employees when they could very easily compensate them, as Cuban and Ressler (and hopefully others) will. It would be the right thing to do and also earn them goodwill with arena staff and the community, as Ressler alludes to, and beyond that, it is offering some rare empathy for a class of people that is rarely afforded such thought.
Gotta take care of the non salary arena staff etc
— Spencer Dinwiddie (@SDinwiddie_25) March 12, 2020
Many of these employees do work other jobs, but there’s a reason they are working two (or three or four) jobs — because they need that income to get by and help their families do the same. It would be easy to pass the buck and note that they aren’t technically team employees because they work for an outside agency like Levy or Aramark or Delaware North, but given how critical they are to game days, it would be worth the relatively small cost for some serious goodwill and simply the practice of being good people and not letting folks living at or near the poverty line go without a paycheck for a couple of weeks.
Calling off games for potentially a month is the right call for public safety and the safety of the players, and the league will have to navigate the financial changes accordingly. There’s no doubting the impact of that, but it is far more impactful on those whose livelihoods — their ability to get food, pay rent, pay medical bills, etc. — are dependent on those checks. They are why 17,000 people can get food and drinks and merchandise and all the other things that line the pockets of the league, and in this moment there is an opportunity to make them know they’re vital and provide them with much needed income in uncertain times.
Cuban and Ressler taking the lead here and publicly announcing plans to take care of those workers is huge, and will hopefully lead other ownership groups to doing the same, whether out of a sense of duty or a fear of shame as others make this call independently.
Ed. Note: The NBA as a whole has not issued any public information or statements on if the league will step in with the handling of arena worker compensation and has not responded to Dime’s inquiry on the subject. Dime has also reached out to a local union that serves California and Arizona stadium workers for comment and will update this story if and when any come in.