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Volume 26 No. 141

Coronavirus and Sports

Officials said the Games will continue to be styled as “Tokyo 2020” and would be held by summer '21
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Officials said the Games will continue to be styled as “Tokyo 2020” and would be held by summer '21
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Officials said the Games will continue to be styled as “Tokyo 2020” and would be held by summer '21
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The IOC and the Japanese government officially postponed the Tokyo Games this morning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, promising to hold the event at some point in the first nine months of '21. The news comes after a growing chorus of demands from Olympic athletes and national federations to delay the Games. In a statement released shortly after 9:00am ET (10:00pm in Tokyo), Olympic officials said the Games will continue to be styled as "Tokyo 2020," and would be conducted after '20 but "not later than summer 2021." "The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present," the IOC's statement reads. "Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan." The announcement was widely expected after the IOC said Sunday it was considering postponement, but nevertheless, sports leaders and businesses welcomed the confirmation. The Paralympics, set to start three weeks after the Olympics, also has been postponed, the IPC said in a statement.

PLENTY OF QUESTIONS REMAIN: Attention now shifts to a slew of virtually unprecedented questions that arise regarding athlete qualification, training, business contracts and logistics a year later. "I wish I had answers to every question out there, but the reality is this decision is unprecedented, and therefore, presents an entirely new process -- for you, for the organizers, for the NGBs and for the USOPC," said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland in a letter to athletes. "Please know we are committed to working with you in the coming days, weeks, and months to address them together." Broadcast rightsholder NBC released a statement saying "we fully understand" the decision given the coronavirus outbreak. "We have no doubt that the IOC and Tokyo Organizing Committee will put on an exceptional Games next year, and that the Olympic flame will once again unite the world and provide a light at the end of this tunnel," the NBC statement reads. NBC, which had sold $1.25B worth of ads for Tokyo, also said it is “actively working with our advertisers” to explore their options in light of the postponement. NBC in '11 agreed to pay $1.41B to the IOC for the Tokyo Games.

EVENTS, SPONSORS TO BE IMPACTED: While there has been some talk that the Japanese might want to conduct the '21 Games in the spring, conventional wisdom in the Olympics industry holds that a delay of precisely one year would cause the fewest scheduling problems. However, that would force changes to the '21 World Athletes Championships, currently slated for next July at the Univ. of Oregon. Most of the IOC's global sponsors and broadcasters, including NBC Universal and Discovery Communications, are on long-term contracts. However, all domestic USOPC sponsors' deals expire at the end of '20, along with global deals for Dow, GE and Procter & Gamble. It was not immediately clear how those rights will be handled. Every sport federation, with input from the national Olympic Committees, will have to determine how to handle qualifying rules. About 20% of the U.S. team for '20 had already qualified.

NBC'S TIRICO CHIMES IN: NBC's Mike Tirico, who anchors the net's primetime Olympics coverage, noted during an appearance this morning on NBC's "Today" that the developments with the Tokyo Games "all spiraled very, very quickly as paralleled the disease's outbreak across the world," which led to this "inevitable" outcome. Tirico said, "Some folks (are) wondering why it didn't happen sooner, but you have to remind everyone this was scheduled for four months from now and it takes seven years to put an Olympic Games together. It's hard to just snap a finger and say, 'This isn't going to happen.' Eventually, they got to the right place about as quickly as you can in this situation." He added making an Olympics team is a "once-in-a-lifetime thing for so many athletes," so the postponement will allow them to "be able to repeat their readiness in 2021 as they were trying to get ready for July of 2020."

Pound's reading of two recent IOC statements led him to view postponement as the only option
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Pound's reading of two recent IOC statements led him to view postponement as the only option
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Pound's reading of two recent IOC statements led him to view postponement as the only option
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

IOC member Dick Pound said it was a "tough call" to postpone the Tokyo Games until '21, but he noted the "public health issues override even something as important as the Olympics." Pound appeared on ESPN's "First Take" shortly after the IOC officially pushed the Games back a year, and he said, "It's very hard to move something as big and universal as the Olympics. ... There was some hope that countries would react faster than they have to the virus, and that perhaps it could be brought under early control. That, unfortunately, has not happened, and I think it made it inevitable for the IOC and Tokyo to say, ‘Look, we can’t risk everybody’s health at this time by having the Games.’” The IOC has been criticized for not acting sooner, but Pound noted the organization's "responsibility to everybody was to wait and make sure that there was no likelihood that the games could proceed in July of this year and then make the decision in cooperation with the Japanese authorities” ("First Take," ESPN, 3/24). Pound first said the Games would be postponed nearly 24 hours before the IOC's official statement, and the TORONTO SUN's Dave Barnes notes while Pound had not been told the Games would be pushed back, he has "been around the movement long enough to read between the lines." Pound indicated that his "interpretation of two IOC statements issued Sunday led him to view postponement as the only option" (TORONTO SUN, 3/24). ESPN's Jeremy Schaap said the IOC “knew the pressure was building,” and they “had to assess the situation as it is rather than the way they want it to be.” Schaap: “This is the way the IOC has typically always worked. Its inclination -- it’s in its DNA -- is for the Games to go on" ("First Take," ESPN, 3/24). 

SORTING OUT ECONOMIC ASPECTS: In Philadelphia, Bob Ford notes it had “become apparent in recent days that the IOC’s delay in announcing a postponement" was largely due to "figuring out the economic aspects of the decision.” The contract between the IOC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee contains "'breach of contract’ language in the event that one side or the other pulls out of the agreement" for '20. Sorting through that “to make the postponement a mutual decision at least partially ... led to the halting response” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/24). YAHOO SPORTS’ Bushnell & Eisenberg note the “truly nightmarish challenges associated with postponement will be confronted behind the scenes.” Tokyo organizers have a “variety of stadiums, hotels and other venues lined up” specifically for ’20, and “all of those deals will have to be renegotiated, reservations canceled and rebooked, reconstruction plans put on hold” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/23). Meanwhile, ESPN's Schaap said, "They’re going to have to figure out how things are going to conflict with various world championships that are scheduled to take place next year.” Schaap: “All of those things, as complicated as they might be, are surmountable, whereas dealing with the coronavirus right now … that’s something they wouldn’t know how to deal with” ("Get Up," ESPN, 3/24). 

MAKING NECESSARY ADJUSTMENTS: In N.Y., Dennis Young notes Japan has spent at least $12B on the Olympics, and if the Games are postponed to ’21, nearly every one “will need to adjust its calendar to account for the Olympics.” One complicating factor is that the Olympic Village in Tokyo “has 4,000 housing units that were supposed to be transferred to private owners next year.” However, a postponement is the “obviously right move” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/24). On Long Island, Neil Best: “Let’s not be too hard on the IOC here. … Organizers knew postponing the Games until the following summer would be a financial and logistical nightmare and understandably had been hoping for a miracle.” However, at some point “rational and emotional align, and good policy and good citizenship trump lucrative business contracts” (NEWSDAY, 3/24).

BOWING TO INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE: In L.A., David Wharton reports IOC leadership had “faced growing criticism for its hesitance to react to the coronavirus.” Pressure intensified over the last couple days as Canada declared it would not send a team to Tokyo in July and Australia “advised its athletes to prepare for a one-year delay.” Recent days also saw national Olympic committees from Brazil, Norway and Slovenia “call for postponement” (L.A. TIMES, 3/24).

USOPC's public advocacy for postponement was an about-face from Hirshland's previous comments
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
USOPC's public advocacy for postponement was an about-face from Hirshland's previous comments
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
USOPC's public advocacy for postponement was an about-face from Hirshland's previous comments
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The USOPC’s call to the IOC to postpone the Tokyo Games likely left the organization "little choice" but to do so, according to Nancy Armour of USA TODAY. Today's announcement that the Games will take place in '21 comes after Canada on Sunday said that it “would not send a team to Tokyo if the Games were held this summer, while Australia said shortly after that it will now prepare for 2021.” Germany, Norway and Brazil also have asked the IOC to delay the Games, but the U.S. “adding its voice to the chorus [was] a game-changer.” The U.S. sends "more athletes to the Games than any other country,” and NBC “pays more in rights fees than any other broadcasters.” The USOPC's decision was an “about-face from Friday,” when CEO Sarah Hirshland and Chair Susanne Lyons indicated that a decision “did not need to be made right away since the Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics isn't until July 24.” However, they were “forced to reconsider after U.S. athletes were among the most vocal in saying the Games should be postponed” (USA TODAY, 3/24). In N.Y., Panja & Rich note with the U.S. urging a postponement, pressure likely increased on the IOC "to act soon” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24). YAHOO SPORTS’ Jack Baer noted the recommendation carried "plenty of weight for the IOC” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/23).

EXPLAINING THE NEW STANCE: Lyons yesterday said that she “understood the frustration of American athletes who wanted a harder and earlier push toward postponement.” She said that she had been “advocating on their behalf behind the scenes.” Lyons also said that the size of the U.S. and its “investment in the Olympics made it more difficult for her and the USOPC to take public stands on issues without coming across as a bully.” She said that the organization “could have a ‘disproportionate impact,’ which means it has a larger responsibility to speak only when it is completely informed” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24). SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg prior to the USOPC’s statement last night wrote if Hirshland demands a postponement, it “would enhance her standing later.” Rosenberg: “Speaking up now is the right thing to do, for both public health and U.S. athletes. The 2020 Olympics will be postponed no matter what Hirshland does. But she should do what Canada and Australia have already done” (SI.com, 3/23).

USA GYMNASTICS SPEAKS UP: USA TODAY’s Armour reports USA Gymnastics yesterday joined USA Swimming and USA Track & Field in asking that the USOPC “lobby for a postponement of the Tokyo Games.” The decision comes after USA Gymnastics “surveyed 70 athletes in men’s gymnastics, women’s gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline” and found that 62% of respondents “favored postponement.” While most gymnasts favored postponement to ‘21, USA Gymnastics President & CEO Li Li Leung said that the NGB “was not going to specify a date to the USOPC” (USA TODAY, 3/24). In DC, Liz Clarke notes gymnastics, swimming and track and field are the “most watched summer Olympic sports and the most lucrative and influential in IOC decision-making.” In raising their voices, the sports’ American NGB “made a powerful statement that the Games should not be held as scheduled” (WASHINGTON POST, 3/24).

Columnists and pundits across North America prior to the IOC's official word that the Tokyo Games are being postponed expressed their thoughts on the subject. In N.Y., George Willis writes postponing the Games was a decision "that has to be made in light of the devastation and disruption being caused by COVID-19 and the uncertainty of when things will get better” (N.Y. POST, 3/24). USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan notes postponing an Olympics is "nothing at all like suspending a season or a tournament," as preparations "have been years in the making." Brennan: "To not hold the Games this summer is crushing to the hundreds of thousands of people planning to work at and go to the Olympics, even though it is the right decision due to the awful explosion of this deadly virus” (USA TODAY, 3/24).

IT WAS TIME FOR IOC TO ACT: In Seattle, Larry Stone writes it was "beyond time" for the IOC to "come to the same conclusion that virtually every governing body, and an increasing number of athletes, have grudgingly, sadly, reluctantly -- but necessarily -- wrapped their brains around” (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/24). In L.A., Helene Elliott: “The plug must be pulled on these Games, and the sooner the better. … Thomas Bach, do your duty. Postpone the Games now” (L.A. TIMES, 3/24). In K.C., Vahe Gregorian: “It’s important to immediately stop the delusion that this can be done on schedule” (K.C. STAR, 3/24). USA TODAY’s Nancy Armour: “Keeping up the pretense that things could magically improve over the next few months had reached the point of being reckless” (USA TODAY, 3/24). In Utah, Doug Robinson writes not postponing the Games "would be irresponsible and endanger people everywhere." Robinson: "It would be difficult to design a better way to spread the disease if you were trying” (DESERET NEWS, 3/24). THE RINGER’s Rodger Sherman: “Of all the sporting events in existence, the Olympics are probably the most dangerous to hold during a global pandemic” (THERINGER.com, 3/23).

WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE TO HAVE: YAHOO SPORTS’ Dan Wetzel wrote the world "could have used the Summer Olympics to go off as planned -- this year as much as any." However, no matter "how good the intentions, that’s proved impossible in these unprecedented times” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/23). In Houston, Brian Smith: “As unifying and amazing as the Olympics can be, the world can’t handle the weight of the Olympics until the world gets right” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/24). In Nashville, Gentry Estes: “A postponement will be difficult for many logistical reasons, but the Olympics are about togetherness. That's an unrealistic goal in a time of social distancing, with survival for so many dependent on staying apart” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 3/24)

ANOTHER SIGN IOC IS OUT OF TOUCH: In N.Y., Matthew Futterman notes the IOC's "slow public responses to the coronavirus have been only the latest example of an organization seemingly out of step with much of the world” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24). In S.F., Ann Killion: “In the face of a global crisis, postponing the Olympics is the only thing that makes sense. Which must be why it is taking so long for the IOC to take deliberate action” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/24). SPORTSNET.ca’s Jeff Blair wrote the fact the IOC is “once again failing miserably when it comes to a test of leadership should hardly come as a news flash” (SPORTSNET.ca, 3/23). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey: “I’d like to think that Canada shamed the IOC into its decision Monday, but having dealt with these people at eight Olympics, I know that they are incapable of shame. More likely, IOC officials realized that Canada would have lots of company soon” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/24).

CANADA STEPS UP: In Toronto, Dave Feschuk writes some country "had to make the first urgent push for sanity," and Canada, due to its move on Sunday to announce it would not participate in the Games if they take place this year "no matter what happens from here, will go down as the first across the finish line to what’s suddenly a foregone conclusion” (TORONTO STAR, 3/24). An EDMONTON JOURNAL editorial states, "It’s to Canada’s credit that its Olympic committees were the first in the world to take such a stand. ... By stepping up, Canada showed the kind of decisive leadership and resolve in the face of an unprecedented crisis that was sorely lacking from the International Olympic Committee" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 3/24). In Toronto, Doug Smith: “I hope and expect that the dopes that run the IOC will come to their senses today or this week and do what Canada demands -- and most sane thinking, responsible people want -- and postpone the Tokyo Games for a year” (TORONTO STAR, 3/23). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Cathal Kelly: “We cancelled an Olympics that should have been cancelled days ago. … The COC hasn’t just pushed the IOC off the podium, but made the ruling body look like ridiculous ditherers” (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/24).

IS ONE YEAR ENOUGH? In Salt Lake City, Julie Jag notes the question “remains whether the threat of the virus will be prevalent even then [in '21] or whether it would be better off to push the Games to 2022.” That would put the Games, its broadcasters and its sponsors “in direct conflict with the world’s other mega sporting event, the FIFA World Cup as well as the 2022 Winter Olympics” (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 3/24).

It is unclear what a year-long postponement means for NBCU's broad Olympic coverage plans
Photo: EMMA COBURN
It is unclear what a year-long postponement means for NBCU's broad Olympic coverage plans
Photo: EMMA COBURN
It is unclear what a year-long postponement means for NBCU's broad Olympic coverage plans
Photo: EMMA COBURN

NBCUniversal has been “operating in recent days as if Tokyo 2020 would be postponed, likely until July 2021,” according to sources cited by Bachman, Rizzo & Radnofsky of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. A source added that NBCUniversal’s contract with the IOC “would also prevent it from broadcasting the Olympic Games in the fall, when the NFL’s regular season starts” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/24). In Philadelphia, Michelle Caffrey reported it is unclear what a year-long postponement would mean for NBCUniversal's “wide-reaching Olympic coverage plans and the record-breaking" $1.25B in advertising it "sold alongside it.” Comcast Chair & CEO Brian Roberts earlier this month indicated that the company has "built potential disruptions into its contracts and has insurance for any of its expenses.” Caffrey noted Comcast had been planning to use its Olympic coverage to "draw attention to Peacock, its direct-to-consumer streaming service that's slated to launch nationwide in July, just ahead" of when the Games were supposed to begin (BIZJOURNALS.com, 3/23).

NFL execs "remain guardedly optimistic at this point, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, that they will be able to stage a complete or nearly complete" regular season, according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. But those execs also are "increasingly pessimistic about salvaging any of their teams' offseason programs for players and are wary of disruptions that would accompany the opening of training camps this summer." The NFL has been "relatively unaffected" by the outbreak aside from altering Draft plans, as it moved ahead with free agency last week. The dealmaking between teams and players "proceeded mostly as normal, even with some teams' offices closed and with front-office executives, agents and players required to overcome travel restrictions that complicated the ability of players to undergo physicals." NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said that the league "continues to plan for teams' offseason programs, training camps and the season, but it will make adjustments if needed." Maske notes NFL leaders and team owners know that other pro sports leagues such as the NBA and MLB "must make decisions first," as those "should provide clarity to the NFL about what can and can't be done" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/24).

ANOTHER DOMINO TO FALL? In L.A., Sam Farmer writes the league's "insistence to stick with the April 23-25 dates for the draft could be problematic, giving some teams an unfair advantage and leaving some lesser-known players out in the cold." As it stands, the NFL is "planning a scaled-down version of the draft in a studio, using technology to check in with players and the various team headquarters." But the "problem" is that NFL Network HQ in Southern California is not "currently open" due to a shelter-in-place order. Virtually everyone is "working from home, and certainly the executives from the three California teams," the Rams, Chargers and 49ers. As "convincing as the NFL has been about pressing forward, there's a feeling among many that the current dates aren't set in stone" (L.A. TIMES, 3/24).

UNCERTAIN TIMES: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the NBA potentially withholding player salaries during the ongoing pandemic will "surely make NFL players nervous about their own compensation." But there is "possibly some good news for NFL players." The NBA CBA "specifically addresses these situations with a 'force majeure' clause," while the NFL CBA "contains no such provision." This would "support a fairly basic argument that the teams owe the players their money even if there's no season," which would result in roughly $200M per team being "paid to players, with no revenue to offset the expense." The NFL "surely would come up with some sort of argument to justify not paying the players, language of CBA and individual player contract notwithstanding" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 3/23).

Shaprio said MLB would need at least a month of workouts and exhibitions prior to regular-season play
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Shaprio said MLB would need at least a month of workouts and exhibitions prior to regular-season play
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Shaprio said MLB would need at least a month of workouts and exhibitions prior to regular-season play
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro believes it will be "closer to months" rather than weeks before MLB returns to play, according to Ian Harrison of the AP. Shapiro during a conference call on Sunday said, "It certainly looks like we are not dealing with days and likely not weeks." He added that training camps "aren't likely to reopen for some time yet." When they do, Shaprio said that MLB "would need at least a month of workouts and exhibition games before regular season play can begin." Opening Day currently has been postponed "until at least mid-May" (AP, 3/22). ESPN's Mark Teixeira said, "If you start the season in June, you could play 100 games and you could have a normal season." He added, "You start getting in a lot of trouble when you start talking about playing games in November and December. The weather just won't allow that." However, Teixeira said he is "completely against" the idea of scheduled double-headers to make up for lost games. He said, "You don't want to make a bad situation worse. ... You're going to have a lot of injuries. You're going to have a lot of pitchers going down, overextended bullpens" ("Get Up," ESPN, 3/23).

REFUND UPDATES: In Chicago, Dan Santaromita reported the White Sox over the weekend sent season-ticket holders a letter to remind them that "no games have been canceled" and to hold onto their tickets "until an official policy is announced." Having a ticket stub "will ensure proof of purchase and the ability to receive a potential refund." The letter also stated that "all White Sox front office employees have been required to work from home" (NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com, 3/22). Meanwhile, Twins President & CEO Dave St. Peter last week said that he hoped the team "within the next week or two ... would have more information for fans regarding ticketing." He said, "We have every intention of being very transparent with our policy and ultimately will try to provide fans with options that will range from credit, to moving into new games, to refunds" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 3/20).

POSTPONE LONDON SERIES: In St. Louis, Ben Frederickson wonders why the Cubs-Cardinals London Series set for June 13-14 is "still on, at least officially," when the league last week canceled both the Mexico and Puerto Rico series. Frederickson: "Kick the series to 2021, announce the games will be played at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals are the designated home team, and stop this silly waiting game" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/23).

The local sports authority's lease deals require teams to pay rent whether or not they play games
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The local sports authority's lease deals require teams to pay rent whether or not they play games
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The local sports authority's lease deals require teams to pay rent whether or not they play games
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

While the coronavirus has "injected worry into every aspect of life, its impact on the brick and mortar element of Houston’s sports infrastructure will be limited,” according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Harris County Houston Sports Authority Chair J. Kent Friedman said that a '14 bond restructuring "ensured that the sports venues will not be an additional drain as the economy attempts to recover from the anticipated downturn." Friedman: “We designed the bonds to weather a financial storm like this one. We have reserve funds and bond insurance. It is unclear now what the depth and breadth of this all will be, but the leases we have with our teams require them to pay their rent whether or not they play games. From that perspective, there won’t be any impact." Meanwhile, former MLB Rangers exec Marty Conway, who teaches at Georgetown Univ.’s School of Continuing Studies, said that gate and concession receipts account for 17% of NFL income and 22% of NBA income. To restore the live-gate revenue stack, Conway said that leagues and teams will face "considerable challenges even when teams return to play." Conway: “I think they’ll start without fans. Then they look at gradually adding inventory. Do you start with 50 percent of fans, not going back to full capacity immediately?" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/23).

StubHub expects high demand for live entertainment and sporting events when the global coronavirus pandemic is under control. "The good news is this is eventually going to dissipate, right," said StubHub GM of Sports Akshay Khanna. "If you look at what's happening in China, the hope is that things are starting to get back to normal now slowly. So we believe that there is going to be a ramp up both of live events and of demand to go to these live events. And we believe that's going to be pretty spectacular." Khanna said the company had some experience dealing with the challenges of working from home when it put in a work-from-home program for its China office when the virus first hit that country. "It was the right thing to do," Khanna said. "We don't want people going in. Then, of course, we're headquartered here in San Francisco, where there's a shelter-at-home order. So obviously there's no question about anyone going to work from here." The company is providing customers a full refund to canceled events or a coupon valued at 120% of the original purchase price that can be applied toward a future event of their choosing. StubHub also has increased its customer service efforts to deal with cancellations and postponements. "We really ramped up our customer service through all of this, (which) we were already incredibly proud of, but we've further invested in that," Khanna said. "But then you can imagine there's a solid chunk of time being spent on how do we come out of this stronger, how do we capitalize on what has to be a pretty significant demand as the impact of this virus of starts to trail off?"

The Jets yesterday "made a significant contribution in efforts to curb the coronavirus spread" as the Johnson Family has made a $1M "joint donation to multiple local United Way agencies" (N.Y. POST, 3/24)....The Packers will establish COVID-19 Community Relief Funds totaling $1.5M through Packers Give Back to assist efforts in Brown County and the Milwaukee area (Packers)....Browns and Crew Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslem pledged $1.5M to COVID-19 relief funds in Ohio, "specifically in Cleveland and Columbus" (CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 3/24).

FOOTBALL CARES: Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, have "set an overall goal of helping raise $200,000 for Second Harvest Heartland, which will provide 600,000 meals for local families." The Thielen Foundation, on behalf of Vikings WR Adam Thielen and his wife, Caitlan, will "donate $25,000 to Second Harvest Heartland." LB Anthony Barr, through his Raise the Barr Foundation, is "offering $500 emergency grants to current or former Raise the Barr scholarship recipients" (GRAND FORKS HERALD, 3/24)....The Steelers announced a $100,000 "donation to the United Way Emergency Basic Needs Fund." LB T.J. Watt also "donated his time and money to 412 Food Rescue, a local nonprofit" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/24)....Rams WR Brandin Cooks has announced a "donation of $50,000 to his hometown of Stockton, CA, to establish the Stockton Children's Fund" (NBCSPORTS.com, 3/23).

BASEBALL, TOO: Mets P Marcus Stroman has "launched a 'COVID-19 Emergency Response' on his HDMH Foundation website to support the Food Bank for New York City and Long Island Cares" (NEWSDAY, 3/24)....Yesterday, Pirates' players "arranged a delivery of 400 pizzas to the staff at Allegheny General Hospital" to help "hospital workers who are providing care to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic" (ESPN.com, 3/23). 

ORGANIZATIONAL EFFORTS: Las Vegas Motor Speedway will "host four Red Cross blood drives beginning Friday at the media center in the track infield" from 10:00am-3:00pm PT to "help offset a blood supply shortage during the coronavirus pandemic." Other drives will be April 2, April 7 and April 11 (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 3/24)....Local broadcasters from the Nationals, Capitals, Wizards, Redskins and DC United yesterday announced that they have "formed 'Voices of DC: Helping to feed the city,' a cause that will donate money to three local charities." Fans can "purchase a personalized video message from play-by-play men like the Capitals’ John Walton and the Redskins’ Larry Michael for a minimum $25 through the website, Cameo." All proceeds will "go to Capital Area Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/24).

SOCIAL MEDIA SUCCESS: Former NBAer Rex Chapman has "built a massive Twitter following by posting humorous videos that are often retweeted by thousands of followers," and now he is "working to mobilize his 576,000 followers to help raise money for coronavirus relief efforts." His Rex Chapman Foundation has partnered with the Bluegrass Community Foundation to create the Rex Chapman Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund to raise money to go to any nonprofit organizations. As of yesterday afternoon, more than 2,000 people had donated to the relief fund in the previous 24 hours (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 3/24).