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Volume 26 No. 178

Coronavirus and Sports

Warriors G Stephen Curry’s 30-minute Instagram chat with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Thursday was an “astonishing and beautiful use of the power of both social media and a celebrity platform to provide much-needed information,” according to Ann Killion of the S.F. CHRONICLE. For 30 minutes, with an online audience of, at times, more than 50,000, Curry “asked basic questions and Fauci answered them, in a calm, informative manner.” The video was a way to “directly reach younger people who might not be tuning into traditional news sources and who might have been mistakenly under the impression that they are not at risk and don’t have to worry about the impact of the coronavirus.” The connection between Fauci and Curry came via social media, as Octagon Exec VP David Schwab, whose agency reps Curry, “sent out a tweet praising Fauci for appearing on the ‘Pardon My Take’ podcast.” Bryant Barr, President of SC30 Inc., Curry’s business enterprise company, saw Schwab’s tweet and “worked with Schwab to connect with Fauci’s team and the concept was pulled together in a few days” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/27).

TALKING ABOUT SPORTS' RETURN: In Sacramento, Mike Stunson notes Curry asked Fauci “about when sports could resume following the pause during the coronavirus pandemic,” to which Fauci noted the “curve trajectory needs to come down” first. He “did not give a date for when the NBA and other sports leagues can continue” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/27). Fauci said, “We can start thinking about getting back to some degree of normality when the country as a whole has turned that corner and starts coming down. Then you can pinpoint cases much more easily than getting overwhelmed by cases, which is what's going on in New York City" (ESPN.com, 3/26). In DC, Ava Wallace notes a "good portion of the chat seemed aimed at convincing viewers to take social distancing and shelter-in-place measures seriously” (WASHINGTON POST, 3/27). In S.F., Connor Letourneau notes it was “apparent that Curry had thoroughly researched the topic.” Fauci “lauded Curry for his detailed line of questioning ... roughly a half-dozen times during the conversation” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/27).

MORE IMPORTANT THAN BASKETBALL: USA TODAY’s Mark Medina writes conducting the interview was the “most significant play" of Curry's career. It could "lead more people to help flatten the curve and save lives” (USA TODAY, 3/27). THE ATHLETIC’s Marcus Thompson II wrote Curry “dropped his most important assist of the season.” Thompson: “In a season when Curry has barely played ... he still managed to come through in the clutch” (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/26).

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: President Obama commented on the live Instagram Q&A, thanking the two “for their efforts to raise awareness during the coronavirus pandemic and urging the public to continue social distancing measures” (THEHILL.com, 3/26).

The NBA is "already thinking about how it could rescue its season, and a revised tournament in Las Vegas leading to the finals could be its answer, assuming it's safe to start playing again," according to Jabari Young of CNBC.com. The league "remains focused on a return after suspending operations, and Las Vegas has emerged as the best location to resume the season." An NBA spokesperson said that the league has "considered many 'scenarios' but is not close to rolling out a plan." Asked if the NBA would pick up where it left off or go straight to the playoffs, Commissioner Adam Silver said he did not have a "good enough sense of how long a period this is going to be" to give a definite answer. Young noted the NBA "could decide to cancel the remainder of its regular season and create a play-in tournament for lower-seeded teams to enter the postseason." Sources said that the league "could then set up a best-of-five series for the first round, before moving to a one-and-done tournament to determine the two teams that will play in the NBA Finals, which would also be a best-of-five." The tournament and NBA Finals "would be held in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, where the league hosts its annual Summer League events" (CNBC.com, 3/26). LeBron James said players would need a “week-and-a-half of mini-training camp,” followed by at least five regular-season games “to get ready for the playoffs.” James: “One thing you can’t just do is go straight into the playoffs” ("Road Trippin Podcast," UNINTERRUPTED.com, 3/26).  

SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE: Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said the NBA has to be "very cautious" as it tries to come back. Cuban: "I think at first we'll play a lot of games without fans, and then figure it out as some of the available medicines … become available (and) we'll go from there.” Cuban: “People need something to rally around right now, people need sports. We need something to cheer for, something to get excited about and there's nothing better than our sports team to do it.” Cuban noted he was “speculating, but I think the NBA is going to try to come back as early as we can without spectators, just on TV and streaming, and just give people something to celebrate” (“Markets in Turmoil,” CNBC, 3/25).

PLAYING BOTH SIDES: In Phoenix, Duane Rankin writes the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. is "alarming and something the NBA should keep tracking when making the decision when and how to resume the season or continue it at all." There are 12 reported coronavirus player cases, but "until every player is tested, there's no way the league can say only those 12 have the virus." If coronavirus cases in the U.S. are "still on the rise in mid-April, the league could extend the suspension for another 30 days in hopes to resume play by June 1, giving teams two weeks like a training camp to get back into playing shape." The NBA "wants to play the rest of the regular season, but again, COVID-19 is far bigger than the league." The league "should seriously consider just skipping the rest of the regular season and prepare for the playoffs" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/27). In Salt Lake City, Gordon Monson writes when it comes to the NBA season "edging forward to a restart in the name of normalcy, for the good of a nation's psyche, let's not just pump the brakes on that idea, let's stomp on them hard." This "isn't a call for negativity," but rather a "cry for what's real." Monson: "Let's get real, then. Let's prepare mentally, physically, psychologically for a season with no proper finish, a season with no finish at all. End the thing now" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 3/27).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is among the league's top execs to be impacted by the cut
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is among the league's top execs to be impacted by the cut
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is among the league's top execs to be impacted by the cut
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

The NBA is "reducing base salaries by 20% for about 100 of the league office's top-earning executives around the world" during the coronavirus shutdown, according to sources cited by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. Sources said that many of the execs and officials who are "impacted" work in the league's N.Y. HQ, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Deputy Commissioner & COO Mark Tatum. Sources added that these reductions "will be implemented immediately and are expected to continue through the course of the coronavirus crisis." Sources said that there are "no widespread cuts to the rest of the organization, and no support or administrative staff are impacted" (ESPN.com, 3/26). The AP's Brian Mahoney noted before the pandemic, it had "already been a challenging season for the NBA financially," with a loss of revenue from the China fallout. Games were taken off the air and "relationships with business partners were damaged" (AP, 3/26).

JOIN THE CLUB: SI.com's Ben Pickman noted Silver "will not be the first commissioner of an American league to take a salary reduction." PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan also has "reportedly decided to forgo his salary indefinitely during the break caused by the coronavirus." Monahan's senior management team has "additionally agreed to a 25% salary cut until further notice." Meanwhile, the NHL also said that it "will temporarily cut the pay of league office employees" by as much as 25%, starting next Wednesday (SI.com, 3/26).

Mark Bartelstein is one of the most prominent agents in pro basketball, and like many others, his world has been turned upside down in recent weeks with the spread of the coronavirus. In the latest edition of the “SBJ Unpacks - Weathering COVID-19 Podcast,” our Bill King caught up with Bartelstein to discuss how he is handling the crisis. Below are some key takeaways from the interview.

On what players have at their disposal to stay in shape now that they can’t work out at NBA facilities:
Bartelstein: It’s a wide, wide range. There are some that have their own home court and weight room and everything you could ever imagine. There are other guys that are renting in the cities that they’re in. So for each guy, you have to figure out what resources you can create so they have everything they need. Some guys are in warmer climates, they can get out a little bit, get some fresh air, get to the local high school. We’re just trying to be very creative.

On working with players spread across the globe:
Bartelstein: Literally everywhere basketball is played in Europe, we’ve got clients there. That’s been a huge undertaking -- getting everyone home. We’ve got one player that’s still over there -- just feels safer doing that than trying to fly back. But everybody else is back now. So it’s scary. (The virus) was a much higher level there before it was here. The medical care there, not that they don’t do a good job, but it’s not what it is here in the States. It was a big undertaking that we had to go through -- get permission for them to leave, work out logistics. Flights were obviously issues.

On what it would mean to teams if they can’t hold individual workouts before the NBA Draft:
Bartelstein: A draft choice for a team is the biggest investment they’re going to make in terms of their future. And they’ve got to get it right. So having the player in their building, spending time with them, having the whole staff meet them, I’m not sure the workout matters as much as just the visit and all of that. This year I think the workouts may have mattered more just because we lost a huge platform, the conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. That’s a big evaluation period, and that’s gone. But teams are doing their homework on these guys, not just this year, but certainly the top players they’ve been tracking them for years.

The NCAA was to distribute just under $600M to conferences and schools from April 15 through June 10
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The NCAA was to distribute just under $600M to conferences and schools from April 15 through June 10
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The NCAA was to distribute just under $600M to conferences and schools from April 15 through June 10
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NCAA announced that it will "reduce its direct distribution" to D-I conferences and schools this year by about $375M to $225M, according to Steve Berkowitz of USA TODAY. The move "resulted from cancellation" of the NCAA Tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic, an event that "generates nearly all" the association's roughly $1.1B in normal annual revenue. The NCAA had been scheduled to distribute just under $600M "directly to conferences and schools from April 15 through June 10." The reduction's impact on schools "may vary by conference." Some of the NCAA money "goes directly to schools," but "most goes to conferences, which, in turn, have revenue-sharing arrangements." Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby during a conference call after the NCAA's announcement on Thursday said the conference maintains an operating reserve and "we have some money beyond that that was a result of money that we withheld last year for another purpose.” Berkowitz notes as such, Big 12 schools "may feel no impact unless the football season is affected by the pandemic." The NCAA said that of the $225M total distribution, $50M will "come from NCAA reserves." Berkowitz reports the association also has a $270M event-cancellation insurance policy "connected to the tournament, and the proceeds, when received, will be used to pay off a line of credit that the association will tap as needed" (USA TODAY, 3/27).

CLOSURE & CLARITY: The AP's Ralph Russo wrote schools that "compete in the wealthiest conferences, with billion-dollar television contracts fueled by major college football, might not notice much of a difference in the short term." But schools competing in mid-major conferences are "preparing to make sacrifices." Still, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner Dennis Thomas "praised the NCAA for keeping member schools informed about the potential severity of the cuts in advance of the announcement," applauding the association for being "fair and balanced 'across the board from Power Five to FCS institutions'" (AP, 3/26). Several ADs on Thursday said that they "welcomed some certainty about the severity of the cut." Utah State AD John Hartwell said, "It's a little bit of a gut punch, but we knew this one was coming. The good thing is we can quantify it and move on." N.C. State AD Boo Corrigan said, "There’s a certain finality to it. The greater clarity you can have in moments like this the better" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/27).

IMPACT ZONE: THE ATHLETIC's Nicole Auerbach wrote the cut will affect D-I athletic departments in "myriad ways, likely starting with staffing reductions or salary freezes and eventually causing schools to reduce scholarships and potentially cut sports entirely." In addition, facility projects, "depending on how far along they are, will be put on the back burner." Within hours of the news breaking on Thursday, schools had "already begun adapting to a new financial reality." For example, Indiana's athletic department announced that it "would defer any non-essential building and maintenance projects and purchases" (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/26).

NIL IN PLAY: SI.com's Pat Forde wrote the "uncertainty could easily spill over to attempts to compensate student-athletes" as well. Legislation has been "passed or is pending in many states, with the NCAA moving earlier this year to seek Congressional intervention and uniform national regulation." However, the NIL issue has "moved from front burner to back burner amid the current climate, but eventually it will return to prominence." The "problem is that money theoretically available through local sources -- school donors and businesses -- could be drying up with the economic downturn," which "could impact both the universities and athletes seeking name, image and likeness compensation" (SI.com, 3/26).

WTA CEO Steve Simon said the tour is "hopeful to play again with our grass court season, which begins on June 8th," but he also noted the tour is "being realistic" as the coronavirus situation develops. Simon said, "Tennis is a little bit unique because it's global. All of the travel restrictions and the challenges being faced on a global basis are certainly going to affect our ability to move players along." He stressed it is "very important right now for our sport to be working together," noting that the WTA is in "definite contact with the ATP on a daily basis, as well as the ITF and the Grand Slams." Simon: "We're working very, very hard with both our tournament council and player council. They've been involved in all of the decisions that we've been reaching with the Tour" ("Tennis Channel Live," Tennis Channel, 3/26).

Richard Childress Racing has informed some staff of furloughs, as NASCAR teams wrestle with whether to implement cost-cutting measures amid the sport's shutdown. Sources said that RCR has already begun with temporary unpaid leave for employees it has deemed non-essential, although the exact number or percentage of its staff that are being affected was not clear. RCR is one of NASCAR’s upper-echelon teams, and top outfits have well over 100 employees, with ones like Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports typically running closer to 500 people between various competition and business departments. RCR did not respond to a request for comment. NASCAR is currently slated to return to action in early May at Martinsville Speedway, but there remain industry doubts about whether that will remain feasible, at least in front of spectators. The AP earlier this week also reported that NASCAR has ordered 20% pay cuts for lower-level employees and 25% cuts for execs, and now teams may not be far behind. It was not clear whether other teams had implemented salary cuts yet, but sources said that several teams were mulling their options.

A local union that represents hundreds of Delaware North concessions employees who are “contracted through that company for the Orioles’ home dates” called on the Orioles to "step in to ensure payment to those who Delaware North laid off when the season was delayed,” according to Jon Meoli of the BALTIMORE SUN. Unite Here Local 7, which is based in Baltimore, sent a letter to Orioles Owner Peter Angelos dated March 23 “asking for the team to step in and join the growing list of owners who have ensured the part-time employees who staff their stadiums will still be paid.” Nnameke Onejeme, a lead stand attendant at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, said, “We know that Major League Baseball has made that money available. We’d like to use that money to care for our families during this crisis” (BALTIMORE SUN, 3/27).

FENWAY PARK WORKERS
: In Boston, Jason Mastrodonato cites sources as saying that several employees of Aramark, which supplies hourly workers for Red Sox games at Fenway Park, are “set to lose their health insurance amid the coronavirus pandemic.” The news comes as Aramark “has not agreed to lower their limitations that guarantee health insurance to employees who reach an hourly threshold during the year.” Aramark is “believed to have shut down all operations at Fenway during the postponement and the company is not expected to pay any of its employees for any lost wages at this time.” The Red Sox had been in “constant communication with Aramark and, as of last week, expected that Aramark was working on something to help their employees across the country at all the venues they serve.” Many of those employees are “now asking for the Red Sox’ help.” While the Red Sox pledged $1M “to help support hourly workers during the pandemic, those funds were applicable only to the 1,300 employees who worked directly” for the team (BOSTON HERALD, 3/27).

Fanatics Founder & Exec Chair Michael Rubin said a Fanatics plant in Pennsylvania began using fabric from MLB jerseys to manufacture masks and gowns for healthcare workers a "few days ago and we've got a goal to make to make a million and donate those." Appearing with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred from separate locations on CNN's "The Lead," Rubin said, "We can make a huge difference." Manfred said they will start to distribute the masks and gowns first in Pennsylvania and "we're hopeful the production will be sufficient that we'll be able to expand beyond Pennsylvania to New York and New Jersey" ("The Lead," CNN, 3/26). Rubin said Fanatics and MLB are going "to bear that expense" for the manufacturing of the masks and gowns even though Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf "had offered to pay our costs to do this." Rubin: "We have a responsibility to use our assets to help make a difference" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/26). CBS' Tony Dokoupil said, "Baseball fans like to collect things, so I have a feeling those are going to be collector’s items in the years to come" ("CBS This Morning," 3/27).

STEPPING UP: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Fanatics' donations are "part of a broader trend that businesses are stepping up to volunteer to retool, to reorient their production lines to make sure that they're making a big contribution to this epidemic that we're facing." Wolf said he "can't say enough about Michael Rubin and Fanatics and what they're doing, the role they're playing, in making sure Pennsylvania, especially, is up to speed” (“Squawk Box,” CNBC, 3/27).

Benson hops on a daily 8:30am call with executives who run her business to stay informed
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Benson hops on a daily 8:30am call with executives who run her business to stay informed
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Benson hops on a daily 8:30am call with executives who run her business to stay informed
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Saints and Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson admitted it has been "frustrating to not be able to go to the office," but she understood why such steps were necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Benson said that at 8:30am daily, she "hops on a conference call with the executives who run her business." She said, "Just please follow the guidelines. I know it's difficult, but we must follow the guidelines. We owe a debt of gratitude to those on the front lines treating those who are impacted." Benson added, "We need to help flatten this curve and make a difference. Let's work together to beat this virus. Practice social distancing. I really miss everyone. I want everyone to stay safe. And I want to see all of them at the games again soon." More Benson: "Soon, this is going to be marked as another challenge we overcome, and we'll look back proudly at how we handled it with grace" (NOLA.com, 3/25).

GENEROSITY OR RESPONSIBILITY? In DC, Kevin Blackistone wrote for as much as sports owners like the Lerner Family, which owns the Nationals, and Ted Leonsis, who owns the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics, and others like them across the country are "due applause for pledging to pay hourly and part-time workers who suddenly can't work because of postponed and canceled sports events," that is "their responsibility." It is "what owners ought to do." Blackistone: "We give too much to pro sports to ever wonder whether they might return anything less" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/26).

Brees said this is a devastating thing for a lot of people, but especially for the state of Louisiana
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Brees said this is a devastating thing for a lot of people, but especially for the state of Louisiana
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Brees said this is a devastating thing for a lot of people, but especially for the state of Louisiana
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Saints QB Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, are making a $5M donation to help people affected by the coronavirus, and Brees noted there are "so many people in need right now." Thinking about people's "basic needs," he and his family wanted to make sure they are "fed and that they can continue to sustain." Brees: "That was where we wanted to start and obviously, there's a lot more work that's going to need to be done." Brees: "This is a devastating thing for a lot of people, but especially for the state of Louisiana. Like I said, so many people are involved in the hospitality and restaurant industry, involved in a small business in some way or another so obviously, those have been some of the ones most hardest hit" ("Today," NBC, 3/27). Brees: "It's a bit of a surreal atmosphere right now ... and yet I think if we want to at least get over the hump with this and get on the downswing, certainly it's something we all need to make sure we're obeying what the medical experts say" ("GMA," ABC, 3/27).

The NFL, in collaboration with the NFLPA, clubs, owners and players, has donated more than $35M to date, including $3.4M from the NFL Foundation as part of the COVID-19 relief efforts. Support has benefited the American Red Cross, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, CDC Foundation, GENYOUth Foundation, Meals on Wheels America, Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, United Way and Wounded Warrior Project. The NFL also is working on a broad plan to incorporate philanthropy and fundraising to provide additional help for those significantly impacted by coronavirus (NFL.com, 3/26).

SUPPORT IN SEATTLE AND CHICAGO: The Sounders are "launching a relief fund, with an initial investment of $500,000" from Owner Adrian Hanauer and his family. The fund will "primarily target neighborhoods surrounding CenturyLink Field which have been impacted by the club’s lack of matches" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/26)....The Bulls and White Sox will "commit $200,000 to support the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund" in providing access to “emergency food and basic supplies, rent, mortgage and utility assistance, direct cash transfers and funds to support outreach to residents most vulnerable to the virus" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/27).

MORE PLAYERS PITCH INBlackhawks C Jonathan Toews "donated $100,000 to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund" through the Jonathan Toews Foundation. The Chicago Blackhawks Foundation announced earlier this month that it will "match the first $100,000 in individual donations" (NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com, 3/26)....Magic G D.J. Augustin made a "financial donation to Krewe of Red Beans in New Orleans," his former hometown. The group is "delivering food from New Orleans restaurants to healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus battle." Nearly $40,000 "has been raised" since the GoFundMe page opened March 16 (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/27).