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Volume 26 No. 178
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SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- USOPC Undergoes Layoffs & Furloughs

A couple of days ago, while chatting about the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, I asked our baseball writer, Eric Prisbell, how his family spent their long weekend last year.

Turns out they traveled to Reno for a basketball tournament his son was playing in. The team finished fourth in a stacked field that came from across the West Coast.

His son was nine.

There won’t be families traveling to Reno, or Vegas, or most other popular travel sports destinations for tournaments this weekend. But things are opening up in many states. Some see that as promising news. Others are terrified by it. I confess to alternating between the two.

The resumption of youth sports is the topic of our latest SBJ Unpacks podcast, which you can read more about below. You’ll also find an item from Eric on the MLBPA’s response to the league’s initial recommendations on health and safety protocols tied to the resumption of play. Included is a request for more frequent COVID-19 testing than was proposed.

There’s a connection between those two.

If professional athletes aren’t comfortable returning to the field without daily testing, how are parents supposed to feel about their kids going back with little more than the advice to stay 6 feet apart, wash their hands and skip the high-fives?

The Unpacks newsletter will take a break starting on Friday for the holiday weekend, returning Tuesday. See you then.

--- Bill King

 

COST-CUTTING MEASURES CONTINUE FOR USOPC

  • The USOPC has enacted a round of layoffs, furloughs and reassignment offers in an effort to further reduce its expenses, reports SBJ's Chris Smith.

  • According to a letter to key stakeholders from USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland, 139 employees were impacted by the latest cost-cutting measures. “I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of this change. It is significant,” wrote Hirshland. There were 51 layoffs and 33 furloughs, in addition to 23 temporary workers having their assignments ended and 32 team members being offered reassignment opportunities. Sources said that affected employees were informed by a phone call this afternoon, and that the layoffs were throughout the organization, including long-time senior staffers and junior-level employees. 

  • In late April, Hirshland said that the USOPC was planning to trim its quadrennial budget by 10-20% to account for the revenue slowdown caused by the Tokyo Games being postponed by one year. In today’s letter, Hirshland wrote that, “Over the past four weeks our leaders have worked with the support of a cross-functional team … to evaluate their strategic priorities, operational mandates, current budgeted investments and the skills and people required to accomplish their objectives over the next 4.5 years." Hirshland also acknowledged that the road back will be a long one: “It has become clear that it will take months, and not weeks, for us to return to full operation, particularly at our training centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid.”

  • The first major expense reduction came two weeks ago, when more than 30 USOPC staffers accepted a voluntary severance package. Departures included Senior VP& Managing Director of Marketing & Media Brian Gordon, VP/Athlete Safety Wendy Guthrie and Associate Director of Athlete Marketing Chris Coleman. The USOPC was expected to proceed with a program-by-program review that would result in further staffing reductions.

  • Amid the waves of cuts, the USOPC is also in the process of hiring for several executive-level positions. The organization recently posted a job listing for a Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer, and other openings include VP/Finance and VP/Communications.

 

TIMING OF PLAYER PAYMENTS LIKELY KEY IN MLB LABOR TALKS 

  • The union's response this afternoon to MLB's draft of health and safety protocols, a source told SBJ's Eric Prisbell, was "wide ranging" and included notes on the following issues: testing frequency; protocols for positive tests; in-stadium medical personnel; protections for high-risk players and family; access to pre- and postgame therapies and sanitization protocols.

  • The union had been collecting feedback from players and medical professions all week. While the 67-page draft has been widely viewed as exhaustive, players' focus was increasingly on the frequency of testing. Some believe that rapid-response testing, with samples sent to MLB's centralized lab in Utah, should be administered more than multiple times per week and likely daily. 

  • With MLB expected to make a formal player compensation proposal to the union in the coming days, don't be surprised to see the variable of timing of payments begin to emerge in conversations between the two sides, writes Prisbell.

  • MLB (50-50 revenue sharing) and the union (prorated salaries) have been in a stalemate for nearly two weeks, with neither pitching another salary structure. The notion of deferring a portion of players' salaries with interest could begin to garner more traction, even though two sources familiar with owners' thinking told SBJ recently that the plan is not feasible because the economic picture is not expected to be markedly better in the spring of 2021. 

  • One source familiar with the union's thinking told SBJ: "I am chagrined to hear them say that. To me, that's the most obvious alternative. If they have concerns about timing or cash flow, there may be things that can be done. If it's simply about, 'We want you to give us $500 million to play games, that's not going to work.'"

 

 

YOUTH SPORTS AT A CROSSROADS

  • The sports that have made their return have done so backed by elaborate plans that included foundational changes, some at substantial expense. Most included COVID-19 testing for competitors and support staff. Yet in many states, kids soon will return to practices, games and tournaments, restricted only by a limit on how many of them can gather in one place. But is it safe? Is it time?

  • SBJ’s Bill King examined the difficult decision coming soon for a nation of anxious -- and in many cases torn -- youth sports parents with the Aspen Institute’s Tom Farrey on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • "The (USOPC) issued what I think are really strong return-to-play guidelines,” said Farrey, executive director of the institute’s Sport & Society program. “What you have are a lot of organizations who are not paying attention to (those) and are just sort of drawing up their own ideas on how to bring back play. They’ve been waiting for the CDC guidelines which came out yesterday -- also super solid. But these are advisory. And the only group that needs to check off on return to play is that local public health official.”

  • In many cases, the impetus to return quickly is driven by travel team and event operators whose businesses were crippled in the past two months. “People are just trying to figure this out,” Farrey said. “And they’re itching to get back to organized play and to games -- because it’s their business. Mortgages need to be paid. I understand that entirely. But it’s making a lot of parents nervous.”
     

 

D-I COUNCIL GIVES HOPE THAT FOOTBALL COULD START ON TIME

  • The NCAA Division I Council voted to lift the moratorium on athlete activities, clearing the way for football and basketball players to begin voluntary workouts on campus as early as June 1, writes Micheal Smith in tonight's SBJ College newsletter. That’s an important hurdle to keep football on course for season kickoffs on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. “We encourage each school to use its discretion to make the best decisions possible,” said Penn AD Grace Calhoun, who chairs the council. “Reopening our campuses will be an individual decision, but should be based on advice from medical experts.”

  • Notre Dame moved the start of its fall semester up two weeks early to Aug. 10, a move that AD Jack Swarbrick said on a LEAD1 webinar has paid immediate dividends. Swarbrick: “One of the things that's been most rewarding about it is it gave us a target that we really needed. We needed the university to say, ‘Here's the goal, here's what we're shooting for, let's all head for it.’ And I've noticed a big change in energy from it.”

 

SURVEY: SPORTING GOODS BUSINESS FEELING THE PINCH

  • A new survey of the Sports Fitness & Industry Association’s membership adds some definition to what was already assumed about the sporting-goods business in the age of COVID: things are bleak, writes SBJ's Terry Lefton

  • In the online survey among the SFIA membership base of sporting-goods manufacturers, retailers, and marketers, 30% reported that sales crashed more than 75% in April, compared to the same month in 2019.

  • Additionally, 70% of those responding said sales were down more than 25% for April, compared to the same year-ago period. Supply-chain disruptions were experienced by 81% of respondents.

  • Nearly all of the industry’s brick-and-mortar retail distribution was closed in the initial months of the current health crisis. Product categories showing positive results included home fitness equipment and at-home sports equipment.

  • According to the survey, the industry believes fitness will be the first segment to come back. Team sports, according to the survey, are considered most likely to return in the fall.


 

 

FORMER WORLD NO. 1 NOT IMPRESSED WITH PGA TOUR PROTOCOLS

  • While stars like Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka have said they will be ready to tee it up once the PGA Tour returns in Ft. Worth next month, Australian Adam Scott will not play in the Tour’s first six tournaments back due to concerns over safety protocols. Scott, who is in Australia during the shutdown,  said, “They are being fairly thorough, but my initial reaction was I was surprised it wasn't tighter than it is." 

  • Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard predicted Scott's comments are “going to be echoed by other players, particularly international players.” Hoggard: “If you compare what the PGA Tour’s health and safety plan is to other professional leagues -- I mean the NBA reported last week that they’re going need somewhere in the neighborhood of 17,000 tests to get back to playing. Granted, basketball is much different than golf. But if you compare it, if the PGA Tour needs about 400 test a week, which is what we were told, that's about 5,000 tests by the end of the season. It’s not even close."

  • Other news across the golf circuit today: The ShopRite LPGA Classic, pegged for July 29-31 just outside Atlantic City, has been rescheduled again because of the coronavirus pandemic and now hopes to be played Oct. 2-4; while the European Tour is working towards a late July restart in the U.K.

 

STATE OF THINGS: A STEADY CLIMB

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH OLYMPIC CHANNEL GM MARK PARKMAN

  • When the Olympic Channel was forced to close its Madrid HQ earlier this spring, GM Mark Parkman retreated home to quarantine with his family near Athens, Ga. There are 27 nationalities among the network’s 100 or so employees, which means staffers are now spread throughout Europe, the U.S. and even Africa. Parkman was impressed with how everyone transitioned to fully remote operations. “We basically switched that over in a matter of two or three days,” he said.

  • Working remotely has given the Olympic Channel a chance to experiment with some new technology; Parkman highlighted the utilization of streaming platform Kiswe around replay broadcasts of Dream Team games from the ’92 Barcelona Olympics. “We have our commentator Tom Kirkland in his apartment in Madrid and Rob Perez, the influencer with Action Sports Network. … We did that kind of building off the Jordan ‘The Last Dance’ documentary,” Parkman noted.

  • Parkman has been waking up quite early with most Olympic Channel employees at least 6 hours ahead, typically starting work around 2:30-3:00am and ending around 5:30-6:00pm. “That’s one of the drawbacks of remote working. … People are working longer and harder than ever because there's nothing else to do,” he said. Most of that hard work is spent preparing for the June 3 debut of “Rulon Gardner Won’t Die,” the first of four Five Rings Films documentaries being released this year.

  • Returning to a re-opened Spain in mid-to-late June is Parkman’s current goal, pending government decisions. He urges everyone to stay as positive and active as possible. How has he done it? Parkman: “I have been able to get a bit more regimented on my fitness and workout schedule … and I’ve taught the dog how to catch a frisbee, so that's been one of the biggest accomplishments.”

 

Parkman is logging long work hours in quarantine, but still found time to teach his dog, Dune, how to catch a frisbee
Parkman is logging long work hours in quarantine, but still found time to teach his dog, Dune, how to catch a frisbee
Parkman is logging long work hours in quarantine, but still found time to teach his dog, Dune, how to catch a frisbee

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: TWO-WAY STREET

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from PR firm DKC Exec VP Dave Donovan and Syracuse professor Brad Horn, who write under the header, "Navigating Post-COVID-19 Requires Listening, Adaptation To Rebuild Fan Trust."

  • "The ability for brands, leagues and venues to restore trust in the public will depend on the industry’s capacity to listen to consumers first. To create an experience that is reminiscent of what they’re used to doing, prior to mid-March, we must first know their fears, thoughts and hopes are on entering a stadium or arena, walking into a gym, or going to a concert."

  • To read Donovan and Horn's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • SNY has "canceled two late-afternoon studio programs, 'The Thread' and 'LoudMouths,'" moves that "resulted in the layoffs of about 20 people who worked on the shows," per Newsday's Neil Best. SNY said in a statement, "For 15 years, we have made adjustments and improvements to ensure SNY’s health and sustained growth. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to do a comprehensive assessment of our business, and we are, again, responding with changes."
  • The Atlanta Business Chronicle's Eric Jackson reports PGA Tour Superstore is "gaining business and opening doors in new locations" despite many other retailers "hanging on for dear life" during the pandemic. The Atlanta-based golf retailer, which is owned by Arthur Blank, "opened its 43rd location on Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. in a 38,000 square foot space."

  • Alabama football coach Nick Saban, wearing a mask, urged others to wear masks and practice social-distancing measures in his latest PSA posted by the school to Twitter this afternoon. The Birmingham News' Mike Rodak reports Saban and Alabama AD Greg Byrne have been "among a small group of staffers working inside Alabama’s athletics facilities in recent weeks."

  • Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet is having a hard time imagining hockey in a post-COVID-19 world, which could include bans on spitting, handshake lines, and of course, fights. He told ESPN's Greg Wyshynski, "What it really comes down to is that whatever you're dealt, you have to deal with it. I have a tough time seeing (it). How do you tell a guy that's in front of the net, trying to fight for position, there's a whistle and there's no scrum? That's going to be a tough one. How do you make sure there's no scrums?  ... It's going to change a lot of the look of the game. It really will."
  • Ballast Point Brewing and The Padres Foundation will donate $1 to Feeding San Diego for each case of Swingin’ Friar Ale that is sold from March through June 30, writes SBJ's David Broughton. Swingin’ Friar Ale, the official craft beer of the Padres, made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the team’s 50th anniversary season. The beer is named for the Padres’ iconic Friar mascot and is available only in San Diego.

 

Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the Padres' 50th anniversary season
Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the Padres' 50th anniversary season
Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the Padres' 50th anniversary season

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Sources: Many In NBA Believe Games Will Resume In Late July
    • Some MLBers Worry That New Safety Protocols Are Too Stringent
    • Graduations At Globe Life Field Could Be Test Case For MLB Games
    • NHL Looks For New Ways To Engage With Fan-Less Restart "Obvious"
    • Adam Scott: PGA Tour's Current Safety Protocols Are Too Lax
    • ShopRite LPGA Classic Rescheduled Again, Moved To October
    • NWSL Tournament Matches In Utah Might Allow Select Fans To Attend
    • Sources: Cubs Latest Team To Implement Pay Cuts For Employees
    • Hockey HOF Going To Electronic Vote Due To Coronavirus
    • Ballast Point Brewing Team Up With Padres For Charitable Effort

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.