Sports companies band together to help the medical field in time of need


As the sports world came to an abrupt stop due to the coronavirus pandemic, a few athletics companies have pivoted to help the medical community.

The more the virus is spreading, the more hospitals, nurses and doctors are searching for personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns and face shields to keep themselves protected. Companies traditionally based in athletics have heard that call and are now doing their part to pitch in.

Fanatics Inc. has been one of the companies on the forefront of this subject. Fanatics produces the official jerseys for Major League Baseball and retailers but announced it will halt production of jerseys to make nonsurgical-grade, single-use masks and gowns for doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel on the frontline battling the virus.

Michael Rubin, the company's chairman, met with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and asked him what he would think about shutting down production of baseball jerseys and donating close to a million masks and gowns. Manfred thought it was a great idea, so Fanatics repurposed its 360,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Easton, Pennsylvania, to produce the masks and gowns.

"This unprecedented public health emergency has compelled our country to be more collaborative, innovative and strategic than ever before," Rubin said. "As the demand for masks and gowns has surged, we're fortunate to have teamed up with Major League Baseball to find a unique way to support our front-line workers in this fight to stem the virus, who are in dire need of critical supplies."

Fanatics began producing the masks and gowns on Wednesday and is now making close to 10,000 a day. It has also partnered with local hospital St. Luke's in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, as well as the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, to help distribute the gowns and masks.

Fanatics will start there, then branch out to deliver the masks and gowns for free to hospitals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York as production ramps up.

Bauer Hockey traditionally produces hockey equipment, some of which includes plastic face masks for helmets, but felt compelled to help as well. Naturally, the company thought it would make sense to produce bigger plastic face shields for doctors and nurses using similar materials. Bauer partnered with Cascade Lacrosse to produce medical face shields at facilities in Blainville, Quebec, and Liverpool, New York, and has since received over 1 million orders for them.

According to Bauer vice president of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier, the company has received orders from nurses, doctors, Massachusetts General Hospital and the chief medical officer of Yale, who represents many hospitals, among others.

"Nurses and doctors are pleading for these masks, and they aren't waiting for their institutions to get them to them," Messier said. "The fact that these people are going to work every day, risking their lives and don't ever think about it but don't have the equipment to protect themselves is unacceptable."

Bauer called on other companies to do the same, and even shared a diagram showing how the face shields are made so that other manufacturers can produce them, too.

"We need this to be more important," Messier said. "It's great for small companies, but we need a mandate because companies like us, it's hard to reconfigure your entire manufacturing. I think a lot of us are doing it, and it helps make a difference, but we need more than that."

Bauer said it has heard from thousands of medical professionals, nurses and hospital executives to place orders. Over a million orders came in the first 48 hours after the initiative was launched.

"I think sports is always a great way to rally people around a cry, and I'm hopeful the things people are doing will bring another angle to it," Messier said. "We've asked our athletes to get on board to tell the story of what Bauer is doing and call on other companies to do the same. Everybody that's doing anything to protect people right now are in need of this protective equipment, particularly a shield because it protects the eyes, mouth and skin from being contaminated."

New Balance also announced it will allocate a portion of its manufacturing workforce to developing face masks to address the significant demand for supplies.

The company is producing prototypes for masks in its Lawrence, Massachusetts, manufacturing plant and said it hopes to scale production using other factories in the near future.

Nike president and CEO John Donahoe announced during the company's earnings call that the shoe and apparel giant is working with Oregon Health & Science University to develop a face-shield prototype.

"Companies like Nike need to do our part. So our teams in innovation and manufacturing are exploring designs for person protective equipment, or PPE, to support doctors, nurses and others on the front line of this outbreak," Donahoe said on the call. "Based on needs identified by the teams and health professionals at Oregon Health & Science University, our teammates are working right now about how to best help, including prototyping face shields of OHSU and others. It's been so energizing to see the quick-strike efforts of the cross-functional team to try to help with this critical need."

Zero Restriction, which is known for creating waterproof apparel with cutting-edge technology, also announced it has approval to begin production on protective masks.

Its creative director developed the first prototype out of a disassembled polo shirt less than a week ago, and the company will now begin production to distribute its first 1,000 masks to local fire and police departments.

While not every company has materials and fabrics at the ready to create protective equipment, other brands are stepping up to help raise funds.

Streaming service Twitch held its Twitch StreamAid, a 12-hour charity stream that ran Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

The live event benefited the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for World Health Organization powered by the United Nations Foundation. The livestream featured competitions, including Fortnite and UNO, with celebrities and athletes from Joe Jonas and The Chainsmokers' Drew Taggart to NHL players David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, William Nylander and Zach Hyman.

The stream also included live musical performances from John Legend, Charlie Puth, Thomas Rhett and many others. The event kicked off a week's worth of fundraising opportunities on Twitch, where the community can continue to host its own streams and raise money for this cause.

As the need for help becomes greater, the call to action is increasing on the part of companies from all over, trying to band together and help where they can.