It was easy to do the math when MLB first announced that each team would be putting $1 million into a fund to help ballpark workers displaced by baseball’s shutdown. Teams could certainly choose to do more internally and there are several other charitable efforts underway, but relying on public perception of either $1 million or $30 million was a flawed strategy that appears even more so when broken down per game or per employee.
That was the case for part-time and hourly Cubs employees, who Jon Greenberg of The Athletic reported received emails this week offering $500 non-taxable grants ($). Not automatic disbursements via check or direct deposit. Grants, the kind you have to apply for. I am not familiar with the financial underpinnings of such an offer, so it’s possible the grant process is necessary to avoid taxes. There’s also the notion that some employees might not need or want the money, so this could be a way to allow those truly in need to raise their hands.
Or, if you’re feeling a little cynical, this could be a way to restrict access to funds that are far too limited in the first place. Greenberg estimates that about 2,000 workers are required at the ballpark for each game, a number that fits neatly with the $500 grants to achieve the $1 million total. Except that the Cubs opened the offer up to employees at Gallagher Way, Hickory Street Capital-owned Hotel Zachary and surrounding restaurants, Wrigley Rooftop buildings, and Wrigley’s cleaning crew.
So that’s, what, another 1,000 people added to the roll? Even if it’s just 500, you’re talking about one-quarter of the initial employee pool that would need to opt out (or be denied a grant, a prospect that seems highly unlikely even if it is at least tacitly implied by the very concept of an application) in order to have room in the $1 million for everyone. Unless, of course, the Cubs do more.
“Our fund will go way beyond a million,” Cubs VP of communications Julian Green told Greenberg. “We committed to that.”
Okay, that’s good. But it’s going to take a lot more — like, a lot a lot — in order to make most of these employees close to whole. When you break it down over 81 games, $1 million is a measly $12,345.68 per home game. Assuming we’re talking about 2,000 eligible workers, that’s $6.17 per game. Not per hour, mind you, per game.
It would be intellectually dishonest to present it that way for the purposes of this grant because the workers wouldn’t be getting paid for the full season up front had everything proceeded as planned. And some of them may have only worked occasionally because they’ve got other employment or because they’re retired and just want to be at the ballpark when they can. The eligibility requirements for the grant seem to eliminate those who aren’t there a majority of the time.
For the Cubs’ “Wrigley Field Team Member Fund,” eligible Wrigley Field and Levy employees had to have worked 250 hours in 2019 and obviously have been rehired in 2020. The workers for Gallagher Way and Hickory Street restaurants had to have worked 250 hours for the same business prior to March 31.
If you figure the average gameday worker puts in 5 hours, it takes 50 games (62% of the season) to achieve 250 hours. I have no idea how many of the total group of potential employees qualify by those requirements, but I imagine it culls a few from the herd.
Stepping back and looking at this objectively, I think it’s fair to say that it’s both a nice gesture and one that’s not nearly enough. It’s almost like I was about to lose my home because I lost my job and couldn’t pay my mortgage, so my grandma sends me a birthday card with a $100 bill. As true as it is that every little bit helps, a lot more help is required. In the Cubs’ case, even adding $1 million a month to the fund means offering just those $500 grants each month.
A strictly pragmatic appraisal says that no games means no revenue means operating at a significant loss simply by keeping the lights on, let alone paying employees who aren’t working. But the Cubs’ $3.2 billion estimated worth means it’d take some unfathomable circumstances — like a global pandemic, perhaps — to bring the organization to its knees financially. Unless that value includes so little liquidity that the same frugality exercised in player personnel acquisitions must now extend to gameday employees.
My hope is that the Cubs indeed “go way beyond a million” and that other forms of philanthropy and social welfare help to close some of the gap as well. More than that, I hope we can all do our part to flatten the curve and ensure the eventual return of baseball and other large gatherings as soon as possible.
Ed. note: We actually discussed this off-air during the latest episode of “The Rant,” a new live webcast that airs daily during the week from 3:30-4p CST. Check it out at our YouTube channel.
The Braves are most definitely giving way more, reportedly by guaranteeing their full- and part-time employees that they will be paid through May 31. Your move, Cubs.
Sources: the Atlanta Braves notified their full-time and part-time employees yesterday that they would be paid through May 31. They are the first known MLB club to give their employees assurances beyond the end of April or beginning of May.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) April 11, 2020