Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 26 No. 183

Coronavirus and Sports

Officials believe next summer will be the general target for Tokyo to host the Games
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Officials believe next summer will be the general target for Tokyo to host the Games
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Officials believe next summer will be the general target for Tokyo to host the Games
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

IOC President Thomas Bach today indicated that the timing of the rescheduled Tokyo Games "will not be restricted to the summer months," though he offered "no set dates" for when the event would take place, according to Axon & Schad of USA TODAY. Bach also did not offer a "timeline for when a decision on the new dates could be reached." Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto had indicated that next summer would be the general target for the Games, but Bach's comments "indicate that the event could also be staged in the spring." Whether the world will be ready whenever the Games are scheduled "remains to be seen" (USA TODAY, 3/25). The AP's Graham Dunbar reports Bach invoked comments by President Trump "to defend himself from criticism" on today's call. When asked why, despite growing concern from athletes, it took so long to postpone the Tokyo Games, Bach noted that "many governments have imposed social limits only into next month and pointed to Trump’s hope of easing restrictions by mid-April" (AP, 3/25). SBJ's Ben Fischer takes a look at five top questions that remain unanswered following the IOC's move.

COMPLICATIONS WILL ADD UP: In N.Y., Rich, Futterman & Panja note Muto believes the decision to postpone the Games until next year will cause “countless complications” to the group's efforts. Thousands of tickets have been sold to people in Japan and abroad, who "may no longer be able to use them.” Japan has already invested at least $10B in the Games, and the delay will “undoubtedly increase costs.” Additionally, leases on “many of the competition venues and contracts with employees will have to be extended” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/25). Muto said, ''Of course there will be costs. As for how much, we have no figures with us right now. As for who will shoulder these costs? Needless to say, they are not going to be easy discussions, so we are not sure how long they will take.'' Japanese newspaper Nikkei put the added cost at $2.7B, citing an “estimate from local organizers” (AP, 3/25). 

DELAY COULD IMPACT IOC PAYMENTS: In N.Y., Keh, Rich & Panja note the IOC also could face "some financial costs” from the move. The Summer Games are the IOC’s “most significant source of income, money that it distributes to dozens of sports federations and more than 200 national Olympic bodies.” A year’s delay “could put those payments in doubt, given that broadcasters … pay most of their fees close to the start of the Games.” The IOC “could perhaps ask its broadcast partners and sponsors to make payments earlier than they normally would be expected … in order to meet its costs, and not deplete its reserves more than necessary” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/25). In London, Zeigler & Lawton report the impact of the delay “will be huge both in financial terms -- the cost to the organisers is estimated to be about [$1.68B] -- and in the knock-on effect to other major sporting events in 2021 that will now have to move.” The delay also will mean a “huge logistical challenge for organisers and the IOC, with contracts for arenas, stadiums and hotels and the athletes’ village having to be renegotiated” (LONDON TIMES, 3/25). Meanwhile, in DC, Sally Jenkins noted there are reports that the IOC “wanted Tokyo organizers to be the ones to pull the ripcord, to protect itself with insurers and in case of any potential litigation.” The organization “wanted to insulate itself and partners such as NBC as much as possible from lasting financial damage over an event estimated to cost $25 billion” (WASHINGTON POST, 3/24).

A LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE: THE RINGER’s Rodger Sherman noted there will be a "fallout of building a temporary city and then not turning up to live in it.” Sherman: “The Olympic village has a staff. What happens to them? The Tokyo Olympics involved the construction of no fewer than eight new stadiums, and at least one of them is supposed to be converted into an apartment block after this summer. What happens to its future tenants? To its investors?” (THERINGER.com, 3/24). In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib notes "untold complications" will occur, including the fact that media villages, which were "designed to house reporters for a few weeks, have already been rented out as permanent residences when the Games were supposed to conclude" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/25). USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan noted it is “mind-boggling to think of everything that must be done to move a Summer Olympics from one year to the next.” It is a “massive undertaking that has never been done before.” However, if “any city can pull this off, Tokyo can” (USA TODAY, 3/24).

SCHEDULING CONSIDERATIONS: In Boston, John Powers writes staging the Games next July, when the weather in Japan is “exceptionally hot and humid, would be repeating what was an unwise decision to begin with.” Moving them to spring “would guarantee better competitive conditions, but the disease might not abate sufficiently to allow athletes the training time they’d need to perform at their optimum level.” The better option would be “late summer or early autumn, which is when they’re customarily scheduled when the venue is in Asia or the Southern Hemisphere.” However, a fall Games “would be undesirable for NBC, which would have to program against the MLB playoffs and NFL and college football” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/25). Meanwhile, in Dallas, Callie Caplan notes with an “uncertain upcoming timeline, athletes are uncertain how to reorganize training plans” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/25).

Postponing the Tokyo Games will cause a “significant financial hit -- and much disruption” -- for NBCUniversal, according to James & Battaglio of the L.A TIMES. The company earlier this month said that it had already sold 90% of its commercials for the Games, and the $1.25B the company collected so far “was a new record, surpassing the total" for the '16 Rio Games. NBCU every two years “has used its 17 days of Olympics coverage to forge relationships with key advertisers and millions of viewers,” and its Olympics coverage “crushes its TV competitors in the ratings.” The company “already had advance teams in place in Japan,” but had been “making contingency plans in recent days as it has become clear that holding the Games in July would be untenable.” For NBC’s sales team and advertisers, the postponement “adds to the economic uncertainties due to the U.S. shutdown of nonessential businesses.” It also will likely mean “renegotiating contracts, and prompt advertisers to re-calibrate their spending plans.” The IOC did not specify when in ‘21 the Games will take place, so it will be “difficult for both sides to make concrete plans” (L.A. TIMES, 3/25). In DC, Kilgore, Maese & Denyer note Comcast has said insurance coverage “would ensure the network doesn’t suffer losses, although it would miss out on Olympic-related advertising revenue” (WASHINGTON POST, 3/24).

NBC TALKED TO IOC ABOUT SCHEDULE: In DC, Ben Strauss cites sources as saying that Comcast execs “had been in touch with Olympic officials in recent days, making their scheduling preference known: They wanted the Games postponed for a year rather than a few months until this fall.” Other factors “contributed to the choice of the one-year delay” by the IOC, but NBC is an “influential stakeholder in the Games.” More than 70% of the IOC’s nearly $6B from the current four-year Olympic cycle comes from TV revenue, and NBC “pays roughly half” of that. If the Games had been delayed until the fall, the Olympics “would have had to compete with the NFL and college football in the United States, along with a number of other events that have been pushed from this spring.” That includes NBC’s commitments to a rescheduled Kentucky Derby and French Open, not to mention the possibility of a much-later-than-usual Stanley Cup Playoffs (WASHINGTON POST, 3/25). 

NEW DEALS WITH AD BUYERS LIKELY: The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Rizzo, Mullin & Vranica note NBCU will “most likely have to renegotiate the deals with advertisers.” One ad buyer said, “NBCU cannot assume all the 2020 Olympic ad commitments will just roll over to 2021.” Another ad buyer said, “Who knows what the world will look like next year. There will likely be a full-blown recession and industries will likely have to be bailed out.” The move also will put a “dent in Comcast’s marketing for its coming streaming service, Peacock, whose July launch was heavily tied to the Olympics as a major selling point” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/25). 

OLYMPICS JUST ONE ISSUE: In Philadelphia, Christian Hetrick notes the Olympics postponement is "one of several disruptions" the Comcast face due to the outbreak. The company yesterday warned investors that it "could face a 'material adverse impact' as the pandemic shuts down theme parks, delays movie releases, and suspends content production" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/25).

All NFL facilities are being closed to ensure safety and a level playing field across the league
Photo: VIKINGS
All NFL facilities are being closed to ensure safety and a level playing field across the league
Photo: VIKINGS
All NFL facilities are being closed to ensure safety and a level playing field across the league
Photo: VIKINGS

All NFL facilities soon will be "closed to personnel -- with some limited exceptions -- in response to the coronavirus pandemic," according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo to teams yesterday "outlining the new rules put in place to ensure the league 'continues to conduct itself in a responsible way,' and that teams 'operate on a level playing field.'" Goodell said that the guidelines "take effect" at 6:00pm local time today, and that in two weeks, the league will "assess the advice from medical experts and public health authorities to determine if it’s safe and appropriate for the facilities to reopen." The facilities "will be closed, except in the case of" employees who are "providing ongoing medical treatment to players." Also exempt are employees (such as the director of facilities, security personnel or independent contractors) "necessary to maintain the physical security of the facility and its contents." Finally, employees (such as technology personnel) "necessary to maintain the security and operational capabilities of the club’s IT network" are exempt (L.A. TIMES, 3/25). ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum said Goodell did the "responsible and the appropriate thing," as he "equaled the playing field” for teams ahead of next month's Draft (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 3/25). 

DRAFT DATES STAYING PUT, FOR NOW: ESPN.com's Schefter & Russini cited sources as saying that the NFL "plans to stick with its original April 23-25 schedule for this year's draft despite a recommendation from the league's general manager subcommittee" to Goodell yesterday that it be "moved back due to the coronavirus pandemic" (ESPN.com, 3/24). Saints GM Mickey Loomis, who is on that GM subcommittee, said he personally was "in favor of delaying the draft so that we can get some of the work done that our scouts and our personnel people ordinarily do.” He said prepping for the Draft without access to the team's facilities would be "really difficult." Loomis: "Just the logistics of trying to conduct the draft and not having access to your draft rooms and your offices creates a lot of logistical problems. This is a not a fantasy draft that you conduct out there with just a list of things on a piece of paper” (“The Peter King Podcast,” 3/25).

TWO SIDES OF THE STORY: NBCSN’s Chris Simms said, “If I’m a GM or working in a front office, I’m mad. I want that draft delayed. ... You’re talking about making million-dollar investments into people, and now you’re not going to get a chance to meet some of those people and really figure out who they are” ("PFT," NBCSN, 3/25). But ESPN's Trey Wingo said, “I don’t want to hear the argument of it’s not the way we’ve done it before, because none of us are working in the way we’ve done it before.” Wingo: “Cry me a river on that one, general managers and scouts, because we’re all doing it differently. You guys need to find a way to do it differently” ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 3/25).

FUTURE PLANS: In Chicago, Dan Wiederer writes how the rest of the offseason will unfold is "anyone’s guess as of now." The league’s new year began on schedule last week, even "amid the nation’s turbulence." Free agency officially kicked off last Wednesday, and business has "proceeded accordingly on that front." But the "ongoing effects of the COVID-19 crisis have caused the league and its member clubs to remain flexible with how they respond and operate" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/25).

NASCAR yesterday informed its staff that pay cuts "will be imposed across the company until the series returns to racing" when the coronavirus pandemic subsides, according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. The memo said that series execs, including the presidents of NASCAR-owned tracks, "will see a 25% reduction in salary, while all other employees will have their salary reduced by 20%." Budget expenses and capital improvements also have been "frozen," and employees were told to "use one week of vacation over the next five weeks." NASCAR currently is suspended until May 9. In the memo, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said that the "hope is that the cuts are temporary, but the situation will be revisited" (AP, 3/24).

Josh Harris said it became clear to the organization that it had made the wrong decision originally
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Josh Harris said it became clear to the organization that it had made the wrong decision originally
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Josh Harris said it became clear to the organization that it had made the wrong decision originally
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

At-will workers for the 76ers and Devils "will keep their current salaries" after a "lot of bad publicity" directed at team owners Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, according to Keith Pompey of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. The Sixers' and Devils' at-will employees making more than $50,000 were "informed of temporary salary reductions of up to 20%." The reductions were to start on April 15 and "run through June 30." HBSE co-Founder Josh Harris yesterday said it was "clear that was the wrong decision." A source said that not all members of the Sixers ownership group "were consulted by Harris about the cut in pay." The source added that "not all of the owners supported Harris’ decision to cut salaries for employees of the Sixers and Devils." The source also said that minority owner Michael Rubin was "among those taken by surprise and is upset." Rubin on Twitter wrote, "I'm a strong believer when you get something wrong, we must learn from it and fix it! That’s exactly what happened here!! Truly appreciate everyone’s feedback -- it was truly helpful." Harris and co-Founder David Blitzer took "huge PR hits for initially deciding to reduce salaries." They were "crushed on sports talk radio, by the media and on social media" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/25). In New Jersey, Abbey Mastracco notes the move was an "attempt to avoid layoffs." In addition to the 76ers and Devils, HBSE owns Prudential Center, where "all events have been postponed through March" (Bergen RECORD, 3/25). 

WRONG READ OF THE ROOM: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski noted the "miscalculation in Philly was that they thought the headline might be Philly owners are not going to have to lay anybody off, they’re going to allow everyone to keep their benefits." Wojnarowski: "In fact, the headline is an owner worth approximately $4 billion is asking his employees to take a pay cut." There were numerous owners across the NBA "who loved the idea that Philadelphia has taken the lead in this” and that Harris was "taking all the hits." Wojnarowski: “There were a lot of sighs of relief in front offices with general managers, with head coaches who really worried about their staff that they were going to be told they had to let people go. They were thrilled when Philly reversed course. ... There’s a belt tightening that is going to have to go on, but no one right now wants to be the first one in on it in the NBA” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/24). ESPN Mike Golic said, “You’d love every owner of every business to pay everybody until this ends. ... But for some, it’s not feasible.” ESPN's Mike Golic Jr.: “The Sixers are guilty of trying to do business like you do business in real life and not during what’s going on right now” (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 3/25).

COLLECTIVE ACTION: In Philadelphia, David Murphy writes under the header, “Josh Harris’ Sixers Coronavirus Pay-Cut Reversal Shows Power Of Collective Action.” Murphy: "The lesson is one that I can only hope will resonate given the moment at hand. The people who will bear the brunt of the health and economic decisions that are currently being made are the people closest to the ground floor of the economy. They also happen to represent the vast majority of the population." In terms of "gross domestic product, the Sixers’ reversal of course counts as a minuscule win." But for that "midlevel worker in the ticket department, the impact is undoubtedly significant" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/25).

The layoffs come just days after a $1.5M fund was established for impacted employees
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The layoffs come just days after a $1.5M fund was established for impacted employees
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The layoffs come just days after a $1.5M fund was established for impacted employees
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

TD Garden workers were "officially laid off" after they were "already left in the financial lurch for missed Bruins and Celtics games," according to Michael Silverman of the BOSTON GLOBE. The Garden and the Bruins yesterday "delivered the news to hundreds of part-time ushers." In a letter regarding the "Operational Impact of Coronavirus," the part-time workforce was told it "will not be scheduled until the conditions at our unit allows us to resume normal operations." The letter also stated that the workers "may be eligible" for unemployment compensation benefits. A TD Garden and Bruins spokesperson said, "This decision was difficult, and we hope this situation is temporary." Silverman notes the layoff letter came just three days after Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs said the organization would set aside $1.5M to pay Bruins and Garden employees for missed home games, but "not until and unless the games were officially canceled, which could be weeks or months from now." A Garden usher said of the news, "It's terrible -- we found that out through the newspaper, not through an official thing from our boss, which is pretty sad" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/25).

MLB Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said he expects a league-wide ticket policy to be introduced in the coming days pertaining to games that either will be rescheduled whenever the season starts or outright canceled as MLB inches closer to what was scheduled to be Opening Day tomorrow. DeWitt said, "For the most part, and this is across the league, we've been saying that nothing has been decided yet regarding how the season is going to look, so it's hard to refund something if we don't know if it's actually being canceled or rescheduled. But once we get past Thursday, the urgency of the response will pick up and I think you'll see a league-wide approach to that issue get resolved here in the next few days, at least an initial approach to this. Thursday will come and go and games won't be played. Are they being rescheduled? Are they being canceled? Those decisions need to be made and therefore refund policies would flow from those decisions." Among other MLB issues is the fate of the Cubs-Cardinals London Series on June 13-14. Several sources said even before the Olympics were postponed yesterday that it was unlikely that the London Series would be played as scheduled this June. "If it's still wildly uncertain in a few weeks, you might have to see some sort of an announcement to move it or delay it or cancel -- or whatever that looks like, I don't know," DeWitt said. "With London, we were looking forward to it as a major highlight of our summer, and the outcome is certainly in doubt."

Lawrence and his girlfriend had raised nearly $3,000 before their page was shut down
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Lawrence and his girlfriend had raised nearly $3,000 before their page was shut down
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Lawrence and his girlfriend had raised nearly $3,000 before their page was shut down
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

A GoFundMe page started Monday by Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and his girlfriend to "assist those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has gained new traction after being temporarily halted by Clemson’s Athletic Department," according to Scott Keepfer of the GREENVILLE NEWS. Clemson Athletics "made the decision to comply with NCAA rules that prohibit using name, image and likeness for fundraising purposes." But the NCAA contacted Clemson officials yesterday to "give an OK to Lawrence’s fundraiser." The GoFundMe page, created by Lawrence and his girlfriend, Anderson Univ. soccer player Marissa Mowry, "raised $2,670 in a matter of hours" before being shut down (GREENVILLE NEWS, 3/25). In Charleston, Joshua Needelman notes Lawrence is "perhaps college football’s most recognizable face with almost 600,000 combined followers on Instagram and Twitter." In an Instagram video, he said that money from the GoFundMe "will go to Meals on Wheels America and No Kid Hungry" (Charleston POST & COURIER, 3/25). In Columbia, Matt Connolly notes it "wasn’t immediately known how quickly Lawrence and Mowry would revive their GoFundMe efforts, but they are expected to do so" (Columbia STATE, 3/25).

The NBA "knows how to mobilize, especially in difficult times," as the league has "found ways to help through its NBA Cares program -- from NBA and WNBA players and teams donating money to assist out-of-work arena workers, public-service announcements from players to mental health assistance to helping kids stay active and healthy during this time." The NBA and WNBA, along with players and teams, have pledged $50M to coronavirus-related efforts, and the NBA and NBPA each donated $1M to "benefit Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, Crisis Text Line, Direct Relief and Share Our Strength, among others." The total right now is around $35M. The NBPA Foundation also is in the process of "streamlining [the] donation process so that organizations receive money faster." The foundation is "thinking big picture" as well, creating an "online resource for players called Big Hearts, Big Impact" (USA TODAY, 3/25).

PLAYERS HELP OUT: 76ers C Joel Embiid has "decided to donate $500,000 to the COVID-19 medical relief to help survival and protection efforts in the community" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/25)....Bulls G Denzel Valentine "made a donation" to the Greater Lansing Food Bank to "help provide meals to families and individuals in mid-Michigan." Valentine is originally from Lansing and played at Michigan State (NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com, 3/24). Meanwhile, Bulls F Thaddeus Young and his wife, Shekinah, have "found an inventive way" of showing gratitude for delivery drivers. The Youngs on the front step of their house "set up a catch-all gift basket of snacks, bottled water and homemade sanitizer for food and mail delivery drivers still working while many others are able to hole up at home" (NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com, 3/24).

GRIDIRON CARES: Jaguars Owner Shad Khan has committed $1M in "support of Northeast Florida's response" to the coronavirus pandemic. The donation is "designed to provide essential support to local organizations focused on the immediate health and well-being of First Coast residents" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 3/25)....The NFL Cardinals have made a $1M "founding contribution to the AZ Coronavirus Relief Fund" as part of the "Arizona Together" initiative launched yesterday by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/25)....Univ. of Memphis football coach Ryan Silverfield, along with his coaching staff, "purchased 360 meals for the Mid-South Food Bank" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 3/24).

STEPPING UP: William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher has "created a foundation to assist William Hill employees furloughed in response" to the ongoing pandemic. Asher said that he "would donate his entire salary to the foundation until sports resume and he is encouraging other executives on his team to do the same." William Hill has 114 sports outlets in Nevada and 39 more in New Jersey and Iowa. Asher said that there are 255 William Hill employees "still working through the shutdown and he believes most of them will contribute something to the foundation" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 3/25).