In the span of 36 hours, the sports world came to a screeching halt because of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer suspended their seasons. The MLB delayed opening day for at least two weeks and scrapped spring training. The Masters Tournament was postponed and the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association canceled competitions. Virtually all Division I athletic activity came to a stop, and March Madness, along with every other NCAA winter and spring championship, was outright canceled. In Europe, the top five domestic soccer leagues suspended play, as did the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.
Ultimately, the decision to postpone or cancel these sporting events is the right one, as the safety of athletes, coaches and fans is paramount. Yet, that doesn’t mean these developments haven’t been a gut punch to the sporting world. Sports are arguably the most popular aspect of our culture, and when they got taken away so suddenly, a lot of people were left in a state of sadness, and rightfully so. Sports are such a big part of people’s lives, including my own, and it’s okay to struggle with how to deal without sports for the next month or two.
What is in danger of being lost in the aftermath of these suspensions and cancellations is the economic impact it will have on a lot of people who work in the sports industry. I’m not talking about big corporations like the NBA and the Premier League, which will likely suffer some significant loss of revenue but will ultimately recover. I’m referring to all of the hourly staff whose work helps the leagues run so smoothly. All of these people and their families are likely to suffer immensely tough times under these conditions.
So many of the thousands of people who work in the sports industry will have no work to do while the suspensions remain in place. The people who staff stadiums and arenas during games will obviously lose out on paying hours, as will those who maintain the grounds at baseball and soccer stadiums and the ice at hockey arenas. This includes those who manage and maintain facilities at colleges and high schools. Even those who work higher-paying jobs, such as those in ticket sales, are potentially at risk of losing out on some wages.
Local businesses and restaurants are also likely to suffer under these suspensions and cancellations. Hotels, restaurants and bars in cities that were scheduled to host March Madness games, for example, will suffer a hit because of the tournament’s cancellation. Sports bars across the country are also facing a substantial loss of revenue, since the number of patrons coming to these establishments will inevitably decrease because there simply are no sporting events to watch.
It is imperative that the leagues that have shut down, as well as all the teams that make up these leagues, develop a plan to provide compensation and economic relief to their workers who otherwise can’t earn their wages. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has already announced a plan to compensate the team’s hourly workers who are impacted by the NBA’s suspension. Similarly, Zion Williamson, a forward for the New Orleans Pelicans, has pledged to help the employees of his home arena through this rough time. Since then, more teams and players have pledged their support, but others have thus far refused to do so. Leagues and teams across the world must follow the lead of Cuban and the Mavericks.
The federal and state governments should step in where they can, especially for workers in state universities such as Binghamton University, who are technically state employees. However, since COVID-19 is impacting the economy in so many different areas, it is unclear how much assistance government can provide. That is why it is even more important that the private sector get involved however it can.
As fans, our recognition of greatness in sports is often limited to players and coaches, and we often forget how many people are involved in making the sports we love happen. Now that they are in a time of need, we cannot forget them. We have to recognize their plight and push the leagues and teams we love to assist them until the day comes that sports can resume worldwide.