Pay the Workers First, Athletes Second

by Danny Welch

Why workers need their pay during this global pandemic rather than athletes

ABC News

Ushers leave empty Hammond Stadium, after a baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles was canceled due to COVID-19

COVID-19’s abrupt contagion has resulted in the postponement of many events that the world has come to annually expect. The sports industry has been drastically affected by social distancing requirements set by the CDC, preventing any sporting events from occurring for the foreseeable future. Although athletes’ jobs are affected by this global pandemic, other employees in the sports industry are suffering far worse. Announcers, broadcasters, and arena workers are being paid far less, or not at all, due to the COVID-19 crisis. Although several athletes have already made donations to these workers, their salary reduction has no current solution.

The NBA, NHL, MLS, and other leagues outside the USA have all suspended their seasons; however, all the athletes in these leagues are currently earning their full compensation. Right now, NBA players are receiving their normal salaries, but that might not continue as a clause in the NBA rules states that “something entirely out of the NBA's control, like a global pandemic, would allow owners to withhold a portion of players’ salaries.”

Likewise, NHL players are still receiving their full paychecks, but there is also a force majeure rule which would allow owners to not pay the players. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly gave a statement stating that NHL players will receive their final three paychecks of the season, as the NHL season was nearly completed before COVID-19 hit.

Unlike the NBA and NHL, the MLS had just begun their season only two weeks before the virus became prevalent enough to affect their scheduling. The MLS rules do not contain any type of force majeure language, meaning that players “are receiving, and will continue to receive, their regular bimonthly paychecks" even while play is suspended.” Players in soccer leagues across Europe are also earning full pay during this period of suspension. In general, it appears that COVID-19 will not be affecting the salary of professional athletes, especially when they are bringing in millions of dollars to league organizations each year.

Unlike most athletes, other employees in the sports industry have been undergoing major salary reductions. Announcers, broadcasters, and arena workers are all receiving wage cuts in these hard times. Even the Boston sports radio stations have been experiencing harsh financial consequences due to COVID-19. A popular Boston sports radio station, 98.5 the Sports Hub, has already taken salary reduction measures with a 10-percent reduction for full-time employees. Other full-time Entercom staffers who make more than $50,000 per year will be required to take pay cuts from 10 to 20 percent as well. For some broadcasters and commentators no work could even mean no pay! None of these reductions compare to that of arena workers, whose low-paying jobs depend on sporting events. Some players and owners have stepped up in providing for these workers; however, no sports means no pay for arena workers across the globe. Rodney Thompson–––an arena worker selling popcorn and beer at 76ers, Flyers, and Phillies games–––says that the absence of sports will “hurt [him] financially” as “there’s no work” for him to do. Thompson is just one of the thousands, if not millions of workers financially affected by COVID-19. Blue collar workers like Thompson are the people who need financial support in this time of global crisis, not the multi-millionaire athletes.

Several European soccer players including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are taking substantial pay cuts to supplement the pay of these workers. Spain and Italy, where Messi and Ronaldo play, are two countries that have been greatly affected by COVID-19. The overall economies in these countries are in a deep recession, and these workers are facing life threatening pay reductions. This respectable act on the workers’ behalf will help them cope with COVID-19’s effects for the next few months. Other athletes such as Zion Williamson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Blake Griffin have also made contributions. Zion said that his donations are “a small way for [him] to express [his] support and appreciation for [the] wonderful people who have been so great to [him] and [his] teammates.” Zion demonstrates his high class on and off the court with an act like this at the age of only 19.

It’s impressive that these athletes are helping out during this time of hardship. However, the workers need their actual salaries more than athletes during this global pandemic. Announcers, broadcasters, and arena workers’ lives are at financial risk due to the coronavirus outbreak, while most athletes have made more than enough to live off for the upcoming months.