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The NBA has never had to figure out how to operate during a pandemic. Nor has any other line of work in America over the last 101 years.
Bucks President Peter Feigin is one of millions of business executives that has had to figure out a way to survive and operate in a temporary new normal as coronavirus has ravaged the country to the tune of approximately 92,000 deaths and millions infected as of Tuesday.
“It’s the same challenge a lot of leaders, lot of managers have had…how to communicate and how to plan for the unknown,” Feigin told WTMJ’s Greg Matzek during our Tuesday Town Hall on the Road to Reopen.
“We’re trying to navigate a road map that doesn’t exist.”
The NBA was in the fourth quarter of its regular season when it had to shut down games in concert with much of the sports world and other industries dependent on mass gatherings – the most unsafe place to be in a deadly pandemic, due to the way coronavirus spreads.
The decisions that have to come certainly involve whether to resume regular season games, head straight to an altered playoffs, or not play at all.
“I’ve never been in a more fluid situation in my whole life. If you asked me this question two weeks ago, I’d have given you a different answer,” said Feigin, who remains optimistic.
“We are certainly getting closer to the possibility of having games.”
Those games possibly could be held on a neutral site, perhaps in cities like Orlando or Las Vegas without fans in person, where all 30 teams could be safely sequestered in order to protect players’ health.
But Feigin and his Bucks front office team even has to figure out how to handle things like, well, door handles, ticket and security operations, and so many other aspects of playing games at Fiserv Forum whenever in-person games return to the home of the Bucks.
“You have to really rethink operations, which I think everybody is. We think of touchpoints, thousands of people, thousands of things, escalators, elevator buttons,” he said about his team’s discernment of moving forward in the medium-term until a point where life goes back to previous normal.
“How do you create a contact-less environment as much as possible going forward?”
Feigin said so much of his team’s operations during the pandemic have had to involve contacting the team’s growing season ticket and corporate fan base, and making sure they understand the fluidity of the situation.
“One thing we made a big concerted effort is, we’ve had about 12,000 seats and 7,000 accounts, and all those accounts got communicated to immediately. Though we don’t know the answers, we communicated as we still don’t know what the future is, the flexibility and optionality on credits and things like that,” he said.
“They’ve been fantastic, incredibly supportive. They understand that’s going on, that there aren’t too many answers (now).”
He also says the franchise has focused on helping a community in need – many with basic needs now at stake due to lost incomes, both within and outside the workers who staff Fiserv Forum.
“It’s made us pivot, focus, change – great leadership from owners and people like Giannis, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe who say we’re going to put our money where our mouth is,” he said about the fund established to help those workers who have no games to work at.
“Then feeding people. There is a gap between those who have and those who do not have…we’ve teamed up with Feeding America and several other organizations to figure out how we can raise funds and literally give food available from our facility and create fundraisers and other things.”
In the end, Feigin predicts there will be basketball and a champion crowned this calendar year – possibly the Bucks, who had the NBA’s best record when the pandemic struck.
“Being the delusional optimist, we’ll play as many games as we possibly can. We’ll fit in the playoffs. Teams are missing between 15 and 19 regular season games. There is a desire…to see if we can get those played. It’s more what the feasibility (is) of timing, in a big way.”