The idea of unpaid “training” in the sports media has sparked much discussion and criticism before, most recently coming around the Naples Invitational men’s basketball league. This tournament is in its first year and is scheduled to take place on the campus of the Naples Community School in Naples, Florida. It includes Kent State, James Madison, Wright State, George Washington, East Tennessee State, Murray State, Missouri State, and
Long Beach State and all of its games will be broadcast on the Flow Sports Flow Hopps platform. But who fills the analyst role on those broadcasts is still apparently poised to catch, with a course announcement for an unpaid “radio intern” to do so is under fire from Joe Vasili (whose radio work includes call-up games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRaiders, Bucknell football, and Bucknell women’s basketball):
If you can’t pay someone to call 12 games in three days, you shouldn’t have that position. pic.twitter.com/Nh44GXC3lH
– Joe Vasile (@JoeVasilePBP) November 10, 2021
Several others also got in there with criticism:
I called 12 basketball games over 3 days on several occasions, sometimes for several weeks in a row. Whenever the grinding stopped, I was instantly sick every time.
…Enjoy it while waiting for a $0 check in the mail
– John Cabral (@jrcabral) November 10, 2021
It’s really amazing how wide the variance is in how broadcasters are valued. Experience is valuable but the most important thing is that you get paid for your work. If networks/organizations want to broadcast, they need to be willing to invest in who they hire.
Zach Smolen (@SmolenSports) November 10, 2021
It’s especially hard to swallow when you consider that most, if not all, teams will have radio crews out there, and they’ll all be compensated.
– Ben Altsher (@BenAltsher) November 10, 2021
Hours later, after all, the tournament account (indeed, a blanket account of both the Naples Invitational and its associated Gulf Coast Exposition, which has also been criticized for Similar post) answered. They said the actual broadcasters are getting paid, and their broadcast team put this up there “looking for some help…because it’s a heavy burden”, and they’ll discuss alternative solutions with them.
All of our broadcasters are paid. Players calling our games are posted there looking for some help during tournament week since it’s a heavy load calling up to 24 games a week. We will discuss this with them and look for better solutions.
– SWFL College Basketball (GCShowcase) November 10, 2021
So the approach here has changed after this criticism. And if this account is to be believed, this was for “help” rather than the main broadcast feed (although it’s unclear what that means; was this really for a second broadcast analyst? The post certainly wasn’t phrased that way.) . But it is worth discussing why the people involved think this is worth trying in the first place, and why there are problems with this kind of thinking.
Not all cases of “unpaid work” in the media world are the same. Some provide significantly beneficial experience or actual course credit, and some require only limited contributions from volunteers. These issues continue to generate some controversy, with some arguing that these positions still have to be pushed, and some defending the status quo and arguing that there is value to positions of limited ‘experience’. But this post in particular seems weak and difficult to defend; Seems to be a huge request in terms of time and effort with minimal tangible reward. As Vasily pointed out, this at least expands the definition of “internship”:
When we talk about the unreasonable financial burdens of just breaking into broadcasting, that’s it. Conservatively, you’re talking about 40 hours of work, several days committed to a fairly high-profile unpaid event.
– Joe Vasile (@JoeVasilePBP) November 10, 2021
The Vasile Basic Beneficiary Test references there are described on the Department of Labor website, and it’s a helpful way to think about at least the basic federal government definition of trainees who must have minimum wage and/or overtime work under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This does not apply at all in all cases; Major League Baseball, for example, has so far avoided applying minimum wage standards to minor league players. And even if something meets the criteria for a paid job rather than an internship, it often takes judicial action to enforce it (and many of those criteria are seen in one direction from every side), so whoever supplies broadcasters (we assume this is the tournament itself, which is run by BD Global Sports, rather than broadcaster Flo Sports, but these details can vary event by event) you will necessarily run into legal trouble because of this. But they got a roasting on social media, as he responds to Vasily’s original tweet It turns out. Here’s one we didn’t post above, and one that deserves further discussion:
This is exactly what makes professional broadcasting possible in many cases for those who are just starting out with some form of breakthrough in life.
This “training” will feature a minimum of ten applicants, rest assured. https://t.co/gdNU1Rc5gI
Adam Garden (@adamgiardino) November 10, 2021
This point from Giardino (who calls UConn Huskies games for IMG Audio) is quite noteworthy, and is part of the reason why the phrase “well, people choose to do that” is not an infallible defense of these kinds of methods. Yes, there are always some people who are willing to work for free, and they can do so thanks to family support, well-paid jobs elsewhere, or other factors. This is especially true in sports, an area in which many people want to work.
But that doesn’t mean that offering jobs or “internships” at the lowest price for someone to do the work is a good move for teams, leagues, event organizers, or media companies. There are a lot of people out there who would say “Sure, I’ll be your general manager for free!” (Many of them are sports-talk radio-callers), but teams don’t tend to put the lowest bidder into this role, and instead theorize that they get better quality out of paying a professional with experience in the area.
The same is true for broadcast and other media roles. If you don’t pay, you get those who can do it for free, and the quality there is usually not good. Diversity certainly isn’t. A large part of the diversity problems in sports broadcasting and sports media begins with the unpaid or low-paid “jobs” that people are expected to do first. Not everyone can do this.
We would probably see a more diverse sports scene (media etc.) and a higher quality scene if there was no assumption that everyone should be doing free or low paid work to start. There is a lot of money in most areas of sports, and most sports jobs could be compensated decently (and could find a wider pool of candidates as a result) if owners and organizations took this path. The tournament here at least appears to have changed course now (but we’ll see what they got into, and how good it actually is). Anyway, it’s unfortunate that it took a social media disgrace to get them to do this.
[Joe Vasile on Twitter; photo from the Naples Invitational website]