As sports broadcast technicians were heading into two of their busiest months, COVID-19 became a nationwide pandemic. After players tested positive for the virus, the NBA came to a halt with all other sports immediately following suit. The result was the unemployment of the entire TV sports broadcast workforce.
According to an article recently published by the IATSE, many networks, including FOX, ESPN, Turner, CBS, and NBC have committed to paying production crews hired for the now-cancelled NCAA Basketball tournaments, several PGA events, and/or regional sports which were scheduled for the near future. Many of these companies are paying cancelled shows through the middle of April. Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest operator of Regional Sports Networks, decided to do things differently.
Sinclair announced late on March 24 a plan to loan some of their broadcast employees up to $2500. Employees who take advantage of the offer will have to give back half their wages, up to $250.00, per event worked starting when they return to work. That means that, when they return to work, those employees who take advantage of the offer will lose a significant portion of their income just as they are trying to get back on their feet. “The offer comes up a bit short,” says IATSE Local 796 President Eric Norberg. “It is a bad deal unless you need to feed your family. It is a last resort.”
Also troubling is that technicians first heard about this from a late evening press release. “Sinclair’s lack of communication with the workforce is a major contributor to the anxiety amongst the crew,” Will Tinsley, President, IATSE Local 414, said. “And After all, why would we want to be in debt to an employer that won’t speak with us directly?”
In the meantime, TV broadcast technicians across the country find themselves in a unique position, sitting at home and watching games they produced, knowing that their employer will be paid even though they may not.
“Workers understand that for Sinclair to pay for games that have only been postponed and not officially cancelled could be an expensive bill,” Erik West, IATSE 414 Business Agent, said. “However, RSNs like Fox Sports Wisconsin have been re-airing previously-played games and promoting those re-airs. That means that FS Wisconsin, which continues to collect subscribers’ fees from cable companies, can put sports on their networks without having to pay for production in this case. That’s a nice chunk of revenue – and we get offered a loan.”