Coronavirus hits the bottom line for sports workers

By Mark Nagi

There are a bazillion reasons why the Coronavirus is awful. In the world of sports, it has ended the seasons and in some case careers of high school and collegiate athletes. It has taken away the enjoyment we all feel as fans.

But what about those that work the sporting events?

I’m talking about the guy that sells the popcorn, the lady that points you to your seat, the crews that clear the arena after the game, as well as the folks that work the TV broadcasts.

For some of these folks those gigs are part of their income. For others, they need to work those games in order to pay all the bills.

Garrett Gooch is a former photojournalist at WATE-TV. He has regular employment and income but freelances as a photog across the southeast.  During football season he works one game with travel pay. Gooch works basketball and baseball broadcasts, among others. When did he think the Coronavirus could affect his schedule?

“Not until the NBA suspended their season,” said Good. “When they suspended the season, I thought it could be a thing. When the NCAA canceled spring sports, that’s when I knew for sure.”

I spoke with someone that works in concessions for events at Thompson-Boling Arena and Lindsey Nelson Stadium. She preferred to speak anonymously.

“It might sound callous for all of the reasons, but we still have to provide,” she said. “I understand why it is happening, but I think the most frustrating part is that there is no other angle to work.  It isn’t like we can go work another festival. We can’t set up a stand at a parade because other things aren’t happening either. I’d imagine a lot of food trucks are feeling that too.”

Wayne Begarly used to work in Knoxville. Today he freelances as an associate director for broadcasts in Nashville. He’s responsible for keeping things on time and making sure sponsorships run. He was supposed to work the MLS game on Saturday, March 21. With that game being canceled, that is money out of his pocket.

“I do AV work when the General Assembly is in session,” said Begarly. “I was supposed to start with the (AAA Baseball) Nashville Sounds but Minor League Baseball is postponed. Worst comes to worst and I’ll slap the Uber sticker on my car and see if anyone is still wanting to go around Nashville.  It’s kind of ironic that they are canceling all these events but still want people to go out and spend money.”

Begarly added, “I do NFL preseason games for the Tennessee Titans. If this goes into June, I’ll start to get worried.”

Mike Moore graduated from the University of Tennessee. In the 1980s he was hired to produce the coaches shows for the Vol Network. He then worked for 25 years with ESPN. Today, he works for a marketing company in Charlotte that specializes in high school athletics.

Moore is also a freelance producer.  He was scheduled to produce three NCAA women’s basketball tournament broadcasts this year, but those games were canceled, which costs him thousands of dollars.

“My opinion is that by canceling spring sports like the College World Series… the NCAA went worst case scenario. But in a month, they could always reinstate them,” said Moore. “This is enormous. It takes a few days to sink in. That’s why sports went from no crowds to cancellation. It takes time for the gravity of this to sink in. So, we will see.”

Jeff Muir works as the Director of Communications for Blount Partnership. He also has a side gig as a stats guy for ESPN broadcasts. It’s his job to provide stats and notes for announcers during broadcasts. (Full disclosure: I do some play-by-play from time to time. I’ve worked with Jeff on a few broadcasts over the years. He does a terrific job.)

“I was hired to do five baseball and softball games in March,” said Muir. “Those are job opportunities I won’t get back. Traditionally UT softball hosts NCAA regionals and the last five to six years I’ve been hired to do those games. That’s a total of six or seven games. Tennessee baseball might have hosted their first regionals in 15 years, too. I budget $4000-$5000 a year on those jobs. That pays for vacation or other stuff. Every little bit helps, and that’s a huge amount. It’s definitely part of our family budget.”

Muir added, “I’m hoping things clear up and that opens up more opportunities.  I have games scheduled in April. I hope leagues can open back up and get back to sense of normalcy and that I can start working again.”

These games are our relaxation… our escape from the norm.  But for others, these games are very important to their bottom line.  It’s a relatively small fraternity of workers.

“I know a guy in Knoxville that does every Nashville Predators game,” said Gooch. “He’s done this for a while and has savings, but he doesn’t know what to do right now.”

“I met lot of good people on crews and this is a huge portion of their income,” said Muir. “They work as much as they can. That means late nights. I have friends that work (Nashville) Preds and (Memphis) Grizzles game and lots of times they travel back and forth each night.  Not just TV people but people working venues, concessions, ushers… they may not make a lot, but anything extra helps.  That couple of hundred bucks is grocery money.”

“I have friends that freelance and that’s all they do,” said Begarly. “I’m lucky. I worry about them.  With the NCAA canceling spring sports, there are folks that will go a while without a lot of money. One guy I know isn’t scheduled to work until August.”

“The freelance money is nice,” says Moore. “I have a full-time job so I’m not solely dependent on it. But in big markets like Philadelphia there are guys that freelance five days a week.  Now what do they do? I think about those people a lot.”

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