I cannot, for the life of me, begin to describe the world myself and hundreds of my peers around the league have been living in for the last two weeks. While the world outside joked, coped and memed their way through swell after swell of breaking news about COVID-19 last week, our front office was left dumbfounded and blindsided by maybe the most bizarre week in modern sports.
About a month ago, our President and General Manager Brent Thiessen went to lunch with our Director of Ticket Sales Matt Magana, right about the time COVID-19 cases were showing up in Europe. Brent is a forward thinker. He’s always looking to improve and never accepts “business as usual.” This mindset is accompanied by useful anxiety, a reasonable worry that constantly pushes us forward. This organization is consistently one of the best in minor league hockey because of this mindset.
“I think this thing is going to hurt us,” Brent would tell Matt at lunch that day. Understatement of the year.
Brent later expressed his concerns in a staff meeting days later, preparing a staff that was more concerned with the upcoming promo night and an accompanying sold out crowd that Saturday than a deadly virus on the other side of the world.
In a challenging season, frustrating losses, the first midseason coaching change in franchise history, constant lineup shuffling due to injuries and trades, disappointed fans and considerable sports entertainment value to be had five minutes west on I-70 in the form of the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, we were thrust into the middle of a global pandemic that spurred an unprecedented response from our league and government alike.
Fans are for lack of a better term in a business sense, the end user. Everything that comes out of our arena, whether that be an in-game promotion, a 30-second highlight clip on Instagram, a press release, the Kids Captain leading the team onto the ice, a win, a loss, a coaching change, is the result of hours, days and months of hard work by the people behind the scenes, most of whom you rarely see on game day. Most of our staff has already worked a nine-to-five day before the doors even open on a game day. On the surface, it appears out of nowhere. Our work began long before those doors opened.
How the tables turned.
Last place teams rarely get luxury. It’s not easy working a 16-hour day less than 12 hours after a difficult Friday loss. It’s not easy showing up to the arena as a player knowing that you have to face the fans when expectations are high. The grind has never been more apparent than it was this season for the Kansas City Mavericks fans, players, coaches and staff. Yet, our fans were still packing this building. An incredible testament to our community’s commitment and passion for this franchise, which now tries to expeditiously wrap up our season.
Once the NBA suspended its season, we knew we were staring down the barrel of something very, very serious and that Brent’s reasonable worry had proven to be useful anxiety. Our league, for how wonderful and unique it is, is not a league stocked with resources such as the NBA or NHL. We do not have TV deals worth millions of dollars a year. Endorsement deals for players are few and far between. Equipment managers work 90-hour weeks. Coaches spend entire 12-hour bus rides splicing together player shifts for video analysis. Our businesses are run on the thinnest of razor thin margins. We have to be creative, we have to be bold, we have to take chances...and we have to get it right.
Brent met with our leadership team in his office last week, laying out the drastic measures the league was prepared to take later in the week. We sat mostly in silence and disbelief. Then, questions. Then, go.
We had dozens of sponsors to call. Every detail in the press release had to be perfectly clear. Players had to be informed before leaks started finding their way to social media. We had to draft a ticket policy for games that wouldn’t be played. Promises had to be kept.
I’d be lying to you if I could remember exactly what day of the week that was off the top of my head. The last week has been a jumbled mess of something we’d normally spend at least a full month preparing for. The severity of the situation was apparent. Our season was on the line. Not something you’d expect to hear when you’ve been virtually eliminated from the playoffs for weeks.
Our season was suspended the same day we took our team photo at center ice of Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. 24 hours later, that ice was melting into a puddle in the backlot of the arena. That team photo was the last time the 2019-20 Kansas City Mavericks would set foot on the same playing surface. An entire season and team wiped out in the matter of hours. Absolutely eerie.
The phone calls rolled in, one after another. Emotions coarsed through phone lines and email inboxes. The phones rang nonstop, mixing with email ping notifications. People wanted their money back. But in the end, most of them understood and let us know how excited they already are for another season of Mavericks hockey.
Some, if not most of these people are looking at lost income. They’re looking at school closures. They’re looking at time spent isolated from others while the world outside tries to figure out what exactly is going to come of all of this. They’re worried about mom and dad. They’re wondering when they’ll be able to have a date night again. Whether they’ll be able to have a cold beer on the porch while a steak sizzles on the grill this spring. So much doubt has suddenly been thrust onto them and “normal” is now a luxury that we won’t be afforded for the time being.
And still, after the inevitable was confirmed Saturday night, they were still excited and thinking about hockey after a disappointing season. That says more about our fans than anything I could possibly imagine. That what we have created and shared together through 11 seasons takes up even an inch of real estate in their minds when the world turns on its head.
Hunker down. We’ll still be here. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. #OrangeArmy