No fans, no work: Arena workers caught in sports shutdown

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MIAMI (AP) — David Edelman can usually be found at a Denver Nuggets basketball game or a Colorado Rapids soccer game. As an usher, he interacts with fans in a role he calls a staple of his life.

But there are no Nuggets games for at least a month. No Rapids games, either. And Edelman has no idea what he’ll do now.

”This is what I do for a living,” Edelman said earlier this week, as the realization hit that sports were going on hiatus because of the coronavirus. ”This is my income.”

Thousands of workers would have staffed the 450 NBA and NHL games that will not be played over the next month in response to the pandemic. And then there are the more than 300 spring training and regular-season baseball games, 130 NCAA Division I men’s and women’s tournament games, 50 or so Major League Soccer matches, all international golf and tennis tournaments, and who-knows-how-many high school, small college and other entertainment events canceled or postponed because of the global health crisis.

The total economic impact of the loss of sports and other events because of the pandemic – assuming only a month shutdown – is impossible to calculate but will reach the billions, easily.

Tickets aren’t being sold, so teams and leagues and organizing bodies lose money. Fans aren’t going to events that aren’t happening, so taxi drivers and ride-share operators have no one to ferry to and from those places. Hotel rooms will be empty. Beers and hot dogs aren’t being sold, so concessionaires and vendors lose money. Wait staff and bartenders aren’t getting tips. Without those tips, their babysitters aren’t getting paid.

The trickle-down effect sprawls in countless directions.

”As players, we wanted to do something, along with our ownership and coaches, to help ease the pain during this time,” star guard Stephen Curry said.

Some teams and top players are trying to help. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, within minutes of the NBA shutdown announcement, said he wanted to find a way to help workers who will lose money because games won’t be played. By Friday, he had his plan: ”We will pay them as if the games happened,” he told The Associated Press in an email.

The Golden State Warriors’ ownership, players and coaches have pledged to donate $1 million to provide assistance to employees who work games at Chase Center.

Other teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, have made commitments to workers at not just NBA events but also the building’s minor-league hockey games. The Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks were among the earliest NBA franchises to reveal they’re working on how they’ll take care of arena staffs. So have the NHL’s Washington Capitals, among others, and the ownership group for Detroit’s Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers on Friday said they were setting up a $1 million fund ”to cover one month’s wages for our part-time staff for games, concerts and events that they would have otherwise worked.”

”Our teams, our cities and the leagues in which we operate are a family, and we are committed to looking out for one another,” New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris said.

Cavaliers star Kevin Love pledged $100,000 to help the workers in Cleveland address what he described as their ”sudden life shift.” On Friday, reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks made a $100,000 pledge on behalf of his family – and the team said later Friday that fellow Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton also donated $100,000.

”It’s bigger than basketball! And during this tough time I want to help the people that make my life, my family’s lives and my teammates lives easier,” Antetokounmpo wrote on Twitter.

Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans said he would ”cover the salaries” for workers at the team’s arena for the next 30 days. Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons pledged $100,000 for workers there, the San Jose Sharks said part-time arena workers would get paid for all games not played and Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said he was giving $100,000 to workers in that club’s arena — a donation matched by his teammates and followed by another pledge from the team’s ownership group.

”This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis,” Williamson wrote on Instagram.

The help – all of it – will go to good use.

At Chicago Blackhawks hockey games alone, about 1,500 workers are in or outside the building on event nights: guest services, concessions, parking, security, box office and so on.

”The per game payroll is more than $250,000,” said Courtney Greve Hack, a spokeswoman for the United Center.

If that’s the NHL norm – no official numbers are available – then workers around the league would stand to lose more than $60 million if hockey does not return this season.

”I get it,” said Chris Lee, who owns a coffee and smoothies franchise in Arizona that draws 70% of its annual revenue sales at spring training and Arizona Coyotes hockey games. ”But this is going to be really tough.”

Lee was packing up cups that won’t be used when baseball announced Thursday that spring training was ending about two weeks early. He and his staff – one full-timer, 14 part-time employees – aren’t sure what comes next.

The enormity of the number of people affected stacks up quickly.

The group that owns the Raptors and other pro sports clubs in Toronto, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, says it’s trying to help 4,000 workers in that city. Extrapolate that across other Canadian and U.S. pro sports cities, and those teams could be looking at 100,000 workers feeling some sort of pinch – not counting the impact at college and other levels.

Some events won’t happen, and it is unclear if workers affected by those cancellations will get any help.

The NCAA men’s Division I tournament generates about $900 million annually through television and marketing rights alone. In Albany, New York, which was scheduled to host men’s tournament games for the first time in 17 years, organizers estimated the economic loss from the three-day event to be about $3 million.

Bars and restaurants bought tons of additional stock and perishables to prep for crowds that won’t arrive. It’ll probably take a few years before the NCAA can bring the tournament back to many of the cities slated to host games next week.

”It’s incredibly disheartening. There’s no question about that,” said Mark Bardack, president of public relations and management firm Ed Lewi and Associates, which had worked for more than a year on the planning of the tournament in Albany. ”To have it all disappear, though obviously no one’s fault.”

Some arena workers, many not wanting to be identified because of workplace policies about speaking to reporters, said they are living paycheck-to-paycheck. They’re not alone, of course: A study last fall by the American Payroll Association said 74% of workers in the U.S. would ”experience financial difficulty” if their usual payday was delayed by as little as one week.

In Philadelphia, Rodney Thompson works on commission selling popcorn and beer at 76ers basketball games, Flyers hockey games and Phillies baseball games. They’re all on hold.

”The more I sell, the more I make,” the 56-year-old said. ”The less I sell, the less I make. It would hurt me, financially. I would have no income coming in. … I make pretty good money. But if there’s no fans, there’s no work.”

Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

“Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

“This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

“This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

“We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

TRIBUTE

The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

“It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

FOR THE RECORD

Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”