‘We are all in this together,’ sports and entertainment attorney says

The World Health Organization’s designation of the COVID-19 crisis as a pandemic and various government jurisdictions banning gatherings of ever-shrinking sizes or placing large areas on virtual lockdown bring to bear the legal concept of force majeure, which can essentially void contract obligations between venues and event organizers, according to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based sports and entertainment law attorney Steven Adelman.

Prior to those declarations, the application of the force majeure principle was murky because, as Adelman explained, a pandemic qualifies, but fear of a pandemic does not. In the case of the latter, parties to a contract could have tried to hold one another’s feet to the fire. Now, either side can walk away from contracts as if they never met in the first place, he said. 

Event cancellation or communicable or infectious disease insurance isn’t likely to bring any measure of relief to venues or promoters either, Adelman said. The first applies when there is physical damage, such as a lightning strike shorting out circuits and rendering a venue unable to stage a concert or sports contest, for example, and the other applies to things like food- or water-borne illnesses that manifest themselves at a venue or event, Adelman said.

Besides, even if one had the foresight to insure for communicable or infectious disease, the market for purchasing such coverage has completely dried up, Adelman said.

“You could not buy it today no matter what price you are willing to pay,” he said.

No segment of the live events industry is being spared the ravages of the unfolding pandemic: venues, including new multibillion dollar stadiums, face suspended or delayed seasons and no clear picture of when fans will again fill seats; event organizers and promoters have been forced to nix concerts, festivals, conferences and trade shows; allied businesses and hourly employees have had their financial sustenance cut off.

But amid the calamity, examples of solidarity and cooperation have emerged in a business based largely on interdependent relationships.

From team owners and athletes making donations or setting up funds to provide for part-time event staff and concessions workers, to venues working with event organizers and promoters to reschedule where possible, to hotels refunding room block deposits amid event cancellations, the connected nature of the industry provides a ray of hope in the face of calamity. 

“What people are doing is trying to work together because we are all in this together,” said Adelman. “No one is getting off easy here.”

The notion that people have to or hope to work with one another again once the crisis is over often tempers purely financial interests, he said.

“I think that’s a really nice thing to observe about our industry. We are not so cutthroat as to try and make every last buck at the expense of people who would be and should be our partners,” Adelman said.

In terms of structural changes that will mark the post-COVID-19 world, Adelman, who is on the faculty of the Sports Business and Law Program at Arizona State University and serves as vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, said “our society is going to change; it doesn’t mean it’s going to change for the worse.”

“I’m really trying to not lose my center of gravity,” he said. “We are going to get through this. We are. We are going to go through a period of hardship. Some of it will be extreme hardship and we have to look out for the people who already are living paycheck to paycheck. Without them our shows don’t go on. One reason I think that people are not scrounging for every last dollar that they could get pursuant to their contracts is it’s not in anyone’s best interest. We are all in this together and if the guys who push road cases cannot make it and they have to leave our industry in order to feed themselves and their families, if they can’t ever come back, that is a huge loss for our industry. We have to look out not only for ourselves but for the people around us.

“When this is all over, my goodness, people are going to want to go out and play together and there is going to be a massive amount of work to do in this industry.”