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Tigers, Wings, Fox Theatre face business-side layoffs and furloughs

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ilitch Holdings Inc. announced a realignment of business operations Wednesday that includes temporary furloughs and layoffs.

The move comes after six months paying salaries and benefits for all employees of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, and at the Fox Theatre, despite the cancellation of more than 200 sporting and entertainment events during measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Baseball and hockey operations staffs are expected to be unaffected by the realignment.   

Chris Granger, group president of sports and entertainment for Ilitch Holdings, sent emails to the affected employees Wednesday morning.

“Our industry, one predicated on bringing people together and designed to bring joy to so many, was the first to shut down and, most likely, will be one of the last to return,” Granger wrote. “Indeed, even as capacity restrictions are relaxed, we remain severely limited in our ability to welcome back guests in any meaningful way.  Of course, we are not alone. COVID-19 has negatively impacted the entire sports and entertainment industry, including our partners, our vendors, our sponsors, and our guests.

“It is in this environment that we have had to make the difficult decision, with respect to our business operations, to put in place some temporary furloughs, as well as layoffs.”

Ilitch Holdings declined to say how many employees are affected. Health-care coverage will continue for furloughed employees.

Many of the affected employees have had their workloads dramatically reduced since the shutdown in mid-March. In some cases, there was no actual work without the events. The Pistons and Red Wings haven't played since March; the Tigers completed a shortened 60-game season without fans.

In April, Ilitch Holdings president and CEO Christopher Ilitch said the company made a decision to keep the workers on

“Of course, this is an evolving situation that we’re confronting head-on and we’ll keep our employees updated if things change. But we are taking a longer-term view,” he said at the time.

On top of paying salaries and benefits to all employees the last six months, Ilitch Holdings also contributed $2 million to part-time, event-based staff at three Detroit venues: Little Caesars Arena, Comerica Park and the Fox Theatre, as well as at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

“Despite this, the unforeseen impact to the events business continues to evolve at all levels,” Granger wrote in his email to employees.  “While our moves today are difficult, I also want to let you know that we continue planning for our future. We are preparing for when our venues will be able to safely welcome guests, we are aggressively booking events into the future, and we are continuing to strategically invest in our teams, including in player development, analytics, scouting, and sports science.   

“It will be exceedingly hard to say goodbye to co-workers, friends, and those we consider family, but, unfortunately, these actions are necessary as we begin the process of aligning ourselves to the current and future market realities in the live event industry.”

Granger also offered reassurances that when the pandemic is over and the venues are reopened, furloughed and laid-off employees will be welcomed back.

“I don’t know when our venues will re-open,” he wrote. “I don’t know when fans will come back in any significant manner. But I look forward to sharing that day with you and ramping up our business operations to meet that moment when it does arise.

“Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.”

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky