College and pro football dominate American airwaves in the fall, making it a busy time for IBEW broadcast members working for CBS and Fox Sports.
During the next few months, however, it may be even busier than usual, something Broadcasting Department leaders have worked to address in recent months.
|Current and potential members listen during a training session put on by the Broadcasting Department at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Aug. 18. State Farm Stadium hosts the Super Bowl in February and Fox Sports needs additional IBEW technicians for the event.
Led by International Representative Vinny Butler, the department held training sessions for potential new members and current members in other branches who want to work utility during football broadcasts. Sessions were held in Glendale, Ariz., on Aug. 18 and Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 10, with a total of 30 trainees in attendance.
Utility members in broadcast are technicians who carry the parabolic microphones — which look like small satellite dishes and are used to pick up sound from the field — or assist the hand-held camera operators. They are on the sidelines during a football broadcast.
The training session in Glendale was especially important. It was held at State Farm Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl in February. Fox Sports will televise it, which means IBEW members across the country will be called upon to work as technicians during the game and in the days leading up to it.
But about 25 miles away, the Waste Management Open — one of the highlights of the PGA Tour golf schedule — will be held at TPC Scottsdale on the same weekend. Televised by CBS, the tournament will put a squeeze on manpower, as IBEW broadcast professionals work as freelancers and often hop between jobs on rival networks with national agreements.
So, Butler and Broadcasting & Telecommunications Director Robert Prunn are working with Fox and CBS to ensure potential shortages are addressed now. The situation is made even more urgent by the fact some broadcast members retired or opted for other employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Fox probably will hire 25-30 utilities for the Super Bowl," Butler said. "Can they handle that in Arizona? We're not sure yet, so we wanted to do a training session down there."
Arizona is a right-to-work state with little unionization in broadcasting. That means Fox will have to draw more utility workers from outside the area, Butler said.
"When Fox broadcasts a Super Bowl, because of the amount of utilities we have as members, they always ask if we can bring in a certain number from the local union," he said. "In bigger cities, like Los Angeles and New York or [Washington,] D.C., it might not be a problem. There's a lot we can go to. In other places, not so much."
Hollywood, Calif., Local 45 is one of the largest providers of members to the national television contracts. Business Manager Rodney Cummings said events like the one in Glendale allow the IBEW to grow its pool of utility members and give trainees a better idea what is expected on the job.
|Hollywood, Calif., Local 45 Business Manager Rodney Cummings, front, poses with attendees following the Broadcast Department training session in Glendale on Aug. 18.
"It's important to hire people with skill and knowledge about what their roles will be," Cummings said. "This is why it's important to have these utility training sessions. People move, get sick or are no longer interested in working events and so on. The local needs a steady number of reliable workers."
Added Prunn: "We enjoy good working relationships with Fox Sports and CBS Sports so our department does everything we can to assist local unions in providing highly trained utilities for every event to our partners. The IBEW prides itself on all our broadcasting members, both utilities and technicians, on being the best in the business."
That is true in Nashville, which isn't scheduled to host an event the size of a Super Bowl, but it does provide steady work for broadcast members, thanks to the NFL's Tennessee Titans, college football and basketball and Major League Soccer games in the area. Like in Arizona, Tennessee is a right-to-work state with little unionization in broadcasting.
But that's where Nashville Local 429, a construction local, comes in. President Kim Sansom said some members ask to work broadcast utility jobs because of the extra money. Others do it because they are sports fans and enjoy seeing big events up close.
"It's a break from that jobsite they've maybe been on for a long time and a breath of fresh air," she said. "Don't get me wrong. It's still work, especially when you're breaking everything down and getting it back to the truck. But it's a different kind of work. You're able to watch these teams play and be right down in the action."
The Nashville training was held at Nissan Stadium, the Titans' home field. Butler noted the good relationship the IBEW has with Fox and CBS management is due to members' hard work over the years. That helped get the training into a stadium. The IBEW has had a professional relationship with CBS since 1939, when it was a radio company, and with Fox Sports since its inception in 1994.
"We're not big enough to have a broadcast department, but we are blessed to get this training to fulfill the needs of CBS and Fox if the Titans are the A game [the top game on CBS or Fox that week] and they need extra utilities and extra parabolic mic operators," Sansom said.
Nissan Stadium is an open-air facility — unlike State Farm Field, which has a retractable roof — and the Nashville training session was plagued by rain. It slowed some instruction but not the enjoyment.
"They loved it," Sansom said. "We got some really good feedback from the members."
Cummings said working in that stadium setting is crucial.
"Trainees become familiar with the stadium parking, security check-in process and the television compound location," he said. "Knowing how to navigate the stadium access points before working an event reduces the chances of tardiness. Being on time — or, even better, 10 minutes early — to a venue helps the entire team."
Butler said the Broadcasting Department is ready to assist with hosting a utility training session if requested by a local union. They help grow membership and allow members of other branches a chance to earn more money or see the action up-close.
"We're giving the opportunities to local utilities in that area to join the IBEW and get some work and we're giving more opportunities to utilities that are already members and work in that area," he said.
It's a move that Cummings fully supports.
"Our reputation is always at stake," he said. "If the IBEW provides good and reliable workers to the networks, then the networks will see the IBEW as the go-to source for manpower for existing and future contracts."