Toronto-Area Franchises Create ‘Team Toronto Fund’ To Assist Event Staff


The shutdown of leagues/events across the sporting world, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced thousands of game day personnel and arena/stadium staff out of work.

In Toronto, the five major franchises — Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays, Argonauts and Toronto FC — have joined forces to help.

In a collective funding program called the “Team Toronto Fund,” team executives, coaches and players from all five teams will contribute donations “to provide additional aid to the many workers that support them each and every day and night,” according to a joint release.

“For me, the definition of teammate was never limited to the people who wear our jersey or who work for the Raptors,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement. “We showed that last spring in good times. Now we’re coming together to get through these unprecedented times.

“Being a good teammate means looking out for our neighbors, friends and the people we work with. Through this fund, we all pledge to be good teammates to our arena, stadium and support staff. We want to be here for them, the way they are always here for us.”

This announcement, which came Sunday evening, follows a previous declaration of support for event staff made by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) on Friday.

In a statement obtained by Sportsnet, MLSE pledged to help employees achieve 95 percent of their average earnings (the maximum amount allowable by Service Canada in order to be eligible for full employment insurance benefits) for four weeks.

Employees who do not qualify for EI will be paid “the equivalent MLSE top-up portion,” the statement said.

Unlike many other major pro sports markets, Toronto is in a situation in which its five major franchises are interwoven in ownership. The Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts and TFC are subsidiaries of MLSE, while MLSE’s parent company, Rogers, also owns the Blue Jays.

Certainly, that makes a joint funding effort more feasible.

“Our staff are often the people fans remember most about their trip to the ballpark,” Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said in a statement. “For their smiles, helping hands and passion. It is an honor to join my fellow sports leaders in Toronto to help make a meaningful impact on the lives of all our game day staff.”

It is uncertain how long sports will be shut down amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but projected timelines of returning to action have grown bleaker in recent days.

When the NBA initially shut down Wednesday night — the first league to do so following Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert testing positive for the virus — commissioner Adam Silver said the league would reassess in 30 days.

MLB halted spring training on Thursday, with a statement that opening day (initially slated for March 26) would be pushed back at least two weeks.

The NHL, meanwhile, has been less concrete. It’s season is simply on pause, but the goal of awarding a Stanley Cup is still in place.

All of these timelines may soon change, though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday that it recommends all events with 50 or more people to be cancelled/postponed for the next eight weeks.

Assuming the leagues adhere to that recommendation, that would rule out practically any U.S. sporting event until roughly mid-May.

In the meantime, stadium workers and other event staff will likely need all the help they can get.

“As we’re dealing with these unprecedented circumstances, we’re seeing this as a time where our communities can band together and take care of one another,” Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement.

“So many of our staff provide us love and support every day they come to work, so we see this as an opportunity to reciprocate those same virtues in this time of uncertainty.”