At virtual ‘luncheon,’ Atlanta sports execs serve updates on what’s ahead

The gates remained closed at Truist Park.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The chief executives of four Atlanta sports franchises provided updates Monday on their organizations amid the coronavirus pandemic and shared their thoughts about a potential resumption of games.

The Braves’ Derek Schiller, the Falcons’ Rich McKay, the Hawks’ Steve Koonin and Atlanta United’s Darren Eales spoke to a virtual “luncheon” event organized by the Cobb Chamber. More than 500 chamber members and others joined the digital event.

“I wish we were all together,” Schiller said, “but this is the next best thing.”

Here’s some of what the teams’ executives had to say:

BRAVES’ SCHILLER

The Braves have “a great deal of optimism” about playing games this year, said Schiller, the team’s president and CEO. “We still believe there is going to be an ability to preserve a high number of games of the 2020 season.”

Greg Maffei, the CEO of Braves owner Liberty Media, said last week that games are "most likely" to begin in early July without fans in attendance at Truist Park and other stadiums. Such a plan is expected to be proposed to the players' union.

“We’re working … closely with Major League Baseball, the commissioner’s office and everybody involved, including the state and county, and just trying to do the right thing and make sure that if we do start up again, it’s going to be done in a safe and effective way,” Schiller said. “We don’t want to get started and then have to stop again. We really are, though, optimistic about getting started.”

When players and, eventually, fans return to Truist Park, Schiller said the Braves will be prepared to institute new “sanitization and health efforts, safety efforts.”

He also said the Atlanta Braves Foundation has dispersed more than $1.35 million to 1,600 stadium workers impacted by the delay in starting the season.

FALCONS’ MCKAY 

With four months to go until the Falcons' scheduled regular-season opener, McKay said the organization is concerned about what needs to be done now, rather than the unknowns ahead.

“The thing that we have really focused on — and I think it has served us well — is: Let’s just deal with right now,” said McKay, the Falcons’ president and CEO. “Some people are talking about the ‘new normal’; we’re calling it the ‘now normal.’

“We haven’t got caught up in training camp and the regular season and fans-or-no-(fans). We haven’t gotten caught up in any of that speculation. We’ve all dealt with: How do we get to next week and what do we have to do to stay on our schedule?

“We can’t predict what’s coming next in this,” McKay said, “because it’s all new. There’s no playbook.”

He noted that the NFL has adhered to its traditional offseason schedule, such as free agency, the draft and the schedule release, albeit in different ways than usual.

“It has been business as unusual,” McKay said.

HAWKS’ KOONIN 

The Hawks had 15 games remaining on their schedule when the NBA became the first major North American sports league to suspend play. It remains unknown what will become of those games, although the Hawks officially reopened their practice facility in Brookhaven on Monday under additional guidelines from the NBA.

“There’s just so much doubt right now,” said Koonin, the Hawks’ CEO. “I don’t know when we’ll go back to play. I don’t know if we go back to play with fans or without fans. What I do know is that the NBA has historically made very smart, good decisions.

“I hope in the next short while we’ll start to get clarity, but right now it’s a little foggy on what the next steps of the future hold.”

Koonin said the Hawks have committed to pay all full-time and part-time employees at least “through the end of our fiscal year, which is June 30.”

ATLANTA UNITED’S EALES

Atlanta United is "excited," team president Eales said, that its players last week started individual workouts at the organization's training ground in Marietta, under a strict set of protocols put in place by MLS.

“That’s a big step for us,” Eales said. “It’s only a first step, but at least it’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.”

Atlanta United had just begun its season when the pandemic shut down the league in March.

“Our hope is still to play a full season,” Eales said. “We’re looking at a number of options. That might be extending our season beyond … November. Perhaps we take that even into 2021 if we had to. … The advantage we have is, firstly, we’re a younger league, so I think there’s a sense we can be more creative. We’re not weighted down by history.

“We have that ability to try to be flexible. That certainly is what we’re going to do.”

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