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Break in the action a big loss for workers in sports and entertainment arena

It’s not just the fans and athletes who will be missing out while events are postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Amalie Arena will remain virtually empty for the time being as the NHL has suspended games while keeping a close eye on the coronavirus pandemic. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]

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TAMPA ― Karen Prindle arrived for her shift as an independent security guard at Amalie Arena at 8 a.m. She expected to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning players pour onto the ice for their morning skate in preparation for Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

A 47-year-old single mother with three sons and the main provider in her household, she works at all three major sports venues — including Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium — in Tampa Bay.

But on this day, there wasn’t the familiar ksssh-ksssh-ksssh sound of blades cutting through the fresh sheet of ice or the thwack of pucks smacking the glass.

The National Hockey League had suspended play so the real work of defeating the coronavirus pandemic could begin.

“I just heard the meeting was at 1 o’clock and that’s when all my venues came up that they were canceled — Valspar, NCAA (basketball tournament), Rays — because opening day is less than two weeks away," Prindle said. “We are right down to the wire on everything and I can’t believe they just suspended the season.”

Unidentified employees make their way to the exit at Amalie Arena on Thursday, when the NHL suspended games indefinitely. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

Until the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the idea of shutting down sports for even a week was unthinkable. Baseball lost some games at the start of World War I and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945. The NFL was properly admonished for playing on between the days of the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy and his funeral.

But this was the day the sports world stopped rotating, in spring of all times, with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Major League baseball only weeks away. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament halted its march. Madness. All brackets busted.

But for Prindle and all those whose livelihoods depend on the games and the concerts being played, what happens now?

Related: For now, we must cheer for safety rather than championships

“I’m a mom of three boys, (two) work at the Trop with me and my other son works (at Amalie)," Prindle said. “He just said, ‘What about the job tonight?’” Prindle said. “I assume my job in (security) command is safe. I’ll be there every day, but it’s the vendors. They’re wanting to know what’s going to happen to their paychecks. What’s going to happen here?

“I’m just nervous for more employees, players, families, the building."

Workers will get a bit of a reprieve. At least through March.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his Vinik Sports Group plan to compensate for lost hours due to canceled hockey games and other events this month.

Even before that news Friday afternoon, Prindle was confident Vinik would find a way to take care of workers.

“He’s the best (in the area)," Prindle said. “I’m sure they’re in there figuring out how we can try to go forward by keeping our own employees safe and then leading that right into the fans because that goes right down the line. ... They’ll come up with a plan and I’ll be right behind them in terms of safety. Safety’s first."

Prindle, a native of Erie, Pa., has lived in Tampa for 19 years. She has been through worse. She is a survivor of domestic violence and was only six months into her current job as the only female in security command at Amalie Arena when the games stopped.

“I work very hard at the Rays for the employee gate and I do Sentry (Event Services), so I’ve done XFL — that ... what are we going to do for WrestleMania (scheduled for Raymond James on April 5)?" she said after pausing. “I mean, there’s so many things that are, I can’t believe they’re closing NCAA.

“As a mother of three boys I’ve seen everything as for smells and stuff, they’re still living, but this is all common sense. I just did two days at the Super Bowl. I can’t understand what is actually going on. We all know we have to wash our hands. We all know that we are going to get sick. What am I missing? The bigger picture? What am I really missing? ... At the Trop, we’re inside, just like here. And I’m like, so many people are going to miss out on so many things.”

Prindle turns 48 this weekend.

“And coronavirus is not going to kill my spirit,” she said.

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A sign announcing the suspension of spring training baseball games is displayed outside a closed JetBlue Park, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox. [ELISE AMENDOLA | AP]

You know him as Marc Haze, a host at Tampa’s NPR station, WUSF-89.7, for the past three decades. His real name is Marc Miller. He has moonlighted all that time as an engineer for sports broadcasts involving USF, spring training games for the Rays and Red Sox, and games at Amalie Arena and Tropicana Field.

“(Thursday) morning, this was a thriving little business," Miller said. “Engineering games, booking road engineers for the Lightning and being an NFL Frequency Coordinator. It’s about 130 work days a year.

“This afternoon, I am out of business. I had 25 workdays booked during spring training and the Rays’ Spanish (broadcasts) beginning opening day. (It’s my equipment in that booth).

“With the NHL, MLB and NCAA all down, I have no gigs left on the calendar until whenever play resumes.”

Miller, however, agrees with the decision to shut down the games and cancel events, even its the rest of a hockey or basketball season.

“The spread of this virus must be contained," Miller said. “While I would likely survive being exposed and infected, I can not live with the possibility, even probability, that my exposure would result in the infection of somebody else at great risk of death before I even knew it.

“I have the luxury of considering this work extra and disposable income. It isn’t that way for many of the people whose entire income depends on games being played."

• • •

Popular concert venues like Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater are also vulnerable to cancelations and postponements. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

It’s not just the cancelation of games impacting contract workers, but concerts, too.

J.T. Squillante, 25, works as a security guard part-time at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. He is putting himself through college.

On Friday, Ruth Eckerd Hall announced it was effectively shutting down operations until April and postponing some additional shows through May.

“Working there is my second job, and I cannot afford to live on just one income,” Squillante said. “I live on my own … so losing that extra income will directly affect how much money I have for gas and food for the month.”

• • •

The Tampa Bay Vipers gave fans a a spring football option and reason to visit Raymond James Stadium. Then the XFL postponed the season after only five games. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

Chris Baker is an assistant principal at Baulder Elementary School in Seminole. He works part-time as an independent security contractor at all the major sports venues. “It’s my fun job," Baker said. “I get to work concerts and baseball and all that stuff."

He was floored by the news of the NHL and all the local events shutting down just as the sports season begins to reach full bloom.

“I’m real shocked," Baker said. “It’s our spring break from school. We planned to go and watch Valspar, the NCAA basketball tournament. And I’m like, ‘What are we going to do now?'"

Baker said he had planned on taking his wife and 6-year-old child to Universal Studios (before it, too, was closed), but would have had to leave their six-month old with his parents.

“I got to thinking about my parents," Baker said. “What if I bring (coronavirus) back to them? And they babysit for us.

“As much as I think maybe it could be a little overblown, we want to be safe."

• • •

The impact of stadiums and arenas going silent will impact non-profits. How? Large food service companies such as Levy and Legends, which contract with the Bucs, Lightning and Rays, provide those organizations an opportunity to raise money working in concessions. Typically, the teams donate 10 percent of the sales.

Anything from youth teams for dance, gymnastics, high school groups — they will be affected not only by the silent venues but by loss of revenue.

It’s all worth it, of course, in the name of public safety. We’ll miss the sounds of sports. Among them, the chime of the cash register.

Staff writers Mari Faiello, Diana C. Nearhos, Marc Topkin, Eduardo A. Encina, Matt Baker and Joey Knight contributed to this report.