The news of being laid off as Tucson Sugar Skulls’ team president last week came not as a surprise to Jay Gonzales, especially after the Indoor Football League officially canceled its 2020 season on April 14 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I got a call a week ago (April 20) and they said, ‘That’s it.’ I was like, ‘Okay,’ and it was time to move on,” Gonzales said. “It’s just the reality of where we are. I certainly know there’s millions of people being laid off, whether temporarily or permanently or whatever, and they’ve got to make decisions about what they’re going to do. “
The decision by Sugar Skulls owner Kevin and Cathy Guy to lay off Gonzales and others involved with the operation was made out of necessity given the current financial situation of the team and the IFL because of the pandemic. Kevin Guy is also the head coach of the IFL’s Arizona Rattlers in Phoenix.
Gonzales mentioned that tide of layoffs started when the season was first postponed in mid-March about a week after the team had gathered for practices under new head coach Dixie Wooten. The Sugar Skulls were preparing for their second season of existence.
“The players and the assistant coaches were let go pretty much at the outset when the season got postponed, (and) we let a staff member go at that time,” Gonzales said. “Then, as it went on, and the season got cancelled, you know, it was my turn.
“It was not unexpected. I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of ‘when?'”
Gonzales stressed what many might not understand — the operation run by Cathy Guy in Tucson is essentially a small business, with minimal staff members working at the team office at the Kino Sports Complex. Gonzales, like his predecessor Mike Feder, was required to perform many functions, ranging from (but not including all of them) answering the phone to attracting sponsors to managing payroll to making sure all the game operations were in place at the Tucson Convention Center.
Gonzales said the Sugar Skulls tried to stay afloat financially this season by applying for a small-business loan and grants were offered by the Rio Nuevo District, which invests in a variety of projects designed to expand the tax base by bringing patrons and new businesses to downtown Tucson.
An unsettling aspect for Gonzales is he never got to see all of his work as a the team president come to fruition in games at the TCC. He replaced Feder last August after serving as the team’s media relations director in the inaugural season.
“We put a lot into it,” he said, “and the community put a lot into it. I felt the community had gotten behind the Sugar Skulls pretty well. We were gonna have a lot of fun this season. We had lined up a great season of fun stuff to do.
“And then the brakes got put on. Now, it’s a matter of how can ownership hold it together?”
Gonzales foresees the Sugar Skulls fielding a team in 2021, depending on the situation with COVID-19 at that time, of course. He believes the Guys are still in the process of making budget cuts to maintain the feasibility of financially having the operations continue next year.
Concerning his lay off, Gonzales said, “The reality was that there just wasn’t going to be a lot more money coming in because the team had gotten all of its sponsorships and things together and was ready to start the season, and now it’s like, ‘What are you gonna do to make it to next year?’It was just something that had to happen, and I knew that, so here I am.”
Gonzales, 60, is a prominent businessman in Tucson with his successful media and public relations firm named Arizona Legal Technologies, LLC, of which he operates with his wife Gabrielle. Jay and Gabrielle have decades of experience in print journalism with Jay’s background as a sportswriter at The Arizona Daily Star and Gabrielle as a news reporter at the Tucson Citizen.
Gonzales mentioned after he was laid off by the Sugar Skulls he “took a couple of days to gather myself” and discussed with his wife the next steps to take to financially provide for his family. Jay and Gabrielle have three children (Alana, Adam and Rachel) who are prosperous in their own way. All three have attended the University of Arizona.
“(Gabrielle) has a great job (as a communications director at Roche Tissue Diagnostics) but what I do is obviously a necessary part of what we are and who we are as a family,” Gonzales said. “So we spent some time talking about it and we felt that the best thing to do is to really work hard to get some immediate things going, and to do that, we have to try and ramp up the business again.”
Gonzales said he has already reunited with clients of which he worked with before accepting the the Sugar Skulls’ president position. Strengthening those bonds that existed before is paramount to him getting his feet on the ground again and stabilizing his family’s income.
That means he will mostly likely not return to the Sugar Skulls.
“I don’t feel like I can go back and try and generate clients for our business and say, ‘Well, I’m only going to do it for six months because I’m going to go back to the Sugar Skulls,'” Gonzales said. “That’s not an option. I have to give potential clients a commitment that if they sign on with me and I ramp up my business again, I’m going to be around for the long haul.”
Gonzales is also returning to his freelance work as a writer and editor for BizTucson, which taps into his “first love because I’m a journalist at heart,” he said, as well as basically his volunteer work for Arizona athletics.
When watching an Arizona men’s or women’s basketball game, pay attention to those on the stat crew sitting courtside by the opposing team’s bench. Gonzales is one of those crew members with headphones on for all of those games along with his brother Gene. Jay recently completed his 30th year as part of the crew. He also helps during Arizona football games.
“It’s just one of the fun things that I get to do and that I kind of hang on to,” Gonzales said. “It’s led to some other things like working in the Pac-12 tournament (at Las Vegas), an NCAA basketball tournament, or at the Arizona Bowl. All those things come about because of the work I’ve done with athletics, but that’s never really been a paying job. I do expect and hope they keep bringing us back to do that because that’s just a lot of fun.”
The most fun of what Gonzales will experience after his brief stint with the Tucson Sugar Skulls could very well be working alongside longtime sportswriter Steve Rivera in the “Eye on the Ball” sports radio show Monday through Friday on KVOI (1030-AM) from 6 to 7 p.m.
Rivera, who started his show Nov. 1, 2018, is welcoming his longtime friend and contemporary as a co-host starting with Friday’s show. Rivera and Gonzales have combined for at least 70 years of experience following and reporting on sports in Tucson.
“I’m really looking forward to it for two reasons,” Gonzales said. “One, I’ve known Steve for a long time. We go back to the 1980s. We were working on opposite sides of the building at the old newspaper plant — he was at the Citizen and I was at the Star. He covered Arizona football for the Citizen at the same time.
“Secondly, the radio thing is something I always thought I could do. I think this is a good time, I feel like I can bring a lot to the radio show. I’ve got a lot of history here. Sports is my first love. I still follow everything.”
Gonzales made the remark that when he closed the door of the Sugar Skulls’ office behind him last week, he sensed that the team will still become a strong part of the Tucson community because of the success the organization experienced in its first season with a playoff appearance and more than 4,000 fans a game at the TCC.
With his numerous contacts and business relationships built through the years, Gonzales will get through these difficult times and keep his vibrant presence in this town as well.
Listeners will have the opportunity to live through his experiences when he is on the air with Rivera.
“We both have a lot of history here; that’s not to say that it’s going to be a trip down memory lane with every show,” Gonzales said. “I think what we’ll be able to do is talk about issues of today and tie them to things that have gone on in this community for a long time and how they matter,”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.