The sons of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs agree that they waited too long to offer a relief fund for 1,000-plus TD Garden workers idled by the coronavirus shutdown.
But Jerry, Lou, and Charlie Jacobs want it known that they weren’t tardy out of neglect. They were late because they prioritized meeting the more pressing needs of their furloughed full-time workers spread out across six countries in their $3.7 billion Delaware North hospitality empire.
The flak the family took was not easy but was understandable given the nine-day delay and lack of communication from corporate headquarters.
That is why the sons wanted to tell New Englanders that there was more behind the lag in aid than what first met all the stink-eye.
“Without context, it seems perhaps arbitrary or there’s no rhyme or reason — if you don’t understand the whole picture, it’s very difficult to comprehend, to borrow Jerry’s words, the ‘triage process’ that we went through,” said Charlie Jacobs in a conference call from Boston with his brothers, both in Buffalo, on Friday. “There was this groundswell of voices saying, ‘Come on, Jacobses, step up,’ and ‘Do this and do that.’ When we got to finally address our part-time associates, it was several days after other teams in other leagues and even other NHL teams had already made plans for game-night associates. But again, those people don’t necessarily have a workforce of 55,000 people, they just don’t have it.”
COVID-19 is decimating Delaware North. A month ago, there were 55,000 employees. Today, 1,100 are left on the payroll.
The hospitality, entertainment, and leisure company has holdings in every sector the virus has immobilized: restaurants, casinos, catering, and food services at resorts, stadiums, arenas, and national parks in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand.
It was “gut-wrenching,” said Charlie Jacobs, to tell roughly 98 percent of the company’s salaried workforce that their jobs were disappearing. Those who still have jobs have accepted pay cuts, with senior level staff taking a higher percentage.
The company wound up providing full-timers eight weeks of health insurance and one week of pay, a time-consuming process for which the brothers said they had no playbook. During the process, they said their father, who has owned the Bruins since 1975, was urging them to help him do something in Boston.
“From the outset it was important to Dad,” said Lou Jacobs. “The Bruins were his early focus, but we were sort of saying, ‘Dad, we’re dealing with this portfolio of businesses here, we’ve got to come up with a better overall strategy for everything else.’ We actually were the ones who put our hands up and said, ‘Can we slow down on that and address that later?’ ”
After hearing from their father that “I’m getting beat up here, let me do this thing” one too many times, the sons finally addressed Boston.
“I think what got us in trouble really was the time it took for us to get there,” said Jerry Jacobs. “I hope you understand there’s a reason that it took us that time and it wasn’t because we were dispassionate. It’s the opposite. It’s because we were trying to take care of the people we felt needed the most. We did do it, but we just didn’t do it fast enough, and that upset people. But there’s a good reason why.”
Jeremy Jacobs is listed by Forbes as having a net worth of $3.4 billion.
Charlie Jacobs pointed to the 1,000-plus jobs created by the $140 million TD Garden renovation and $1.5 billion development with Boston Properties on the Hub on Causeway (the final phase of the project, the tower built for Verizon, is only 50 percent complete and the construction shutdown will make meeting next summer’s completion target date difficult, said Charlie Jacobs) as examples of how the company is focused on growth.
Charlie Jacobs said in 2019 the company invested $600 million on itself, part of its growth-oriented 96-97 percent reinvestment rate.
The brothers pointed to the $7 million-$8 million Delaware North provides annually to Buffalo-area organizations and the $8 million-plus they said the Bruins Foundation doled out in New England last year as evidence of their philanthropy.
Jerry Jacobs said the notion of a family with its resources doing more in this time of increased need was misdirected.
“I have to tell you, when you say ‘great wealth,’ you’re talking about Delaware North companies, and as Charlie described our capital is largely invested in the business,” said Jerry Jacobs. “It’s sort of like saying, ‘You have a net worth and that includes your house and you have to sell your house in order to have the cash to actually give it away.’ That’s very much the situation we’re in. Our capital is tied up in our business, and our business is basically shut down. So, it’s tied our hands. As much as we want to be more philanthropic in a time of great need, it’s really tied our hands and our ability to do so.
“Delaware North is the Jacobs family asset.”
The brothers said they understood the magnitude of the coronavirus quickly, arguably more quickly than other team owners or leagues who opted to address their workers’ needs immediately rather than wait.
One thing the Jacobses didn’t want to do was pay workers now for missed games that might be made up later. The prospect of paying workers twice or figuring out how to avoid doing that outweighed the oft-heard complaint from TD Garden workers that they could use the economic relief now. A $1.5 million fund was eventually set up to assist workers with lost wages, contingent on the NHL canceling the games.
“We understood very quickly the depth of this damage and the amount of the pain that would be out there,” said Jerry Jacobs. “And I think some of the other owners were focused really in their league and they didn’t see it quite as fast because they’re not seated where we are in terms of the industry and the visibility of what’s happening. So I think some people thought, ‘Well, this is just a stopgap, we’re going to help our people out, we’re going to get through this crisis.’
“We saw a much bigger picture, so we had to focus very quickly on others. It’s very hard to say to an employee, ‘You’re not going to get paid,’ and ‘Oh, they’re going to get paid twice — they’re going to get relieved now and they’re going to get paid when the event happens.’ So we had to really focus on taking care of the people who needed our help the most, and that’s why it played out the way it did.”