When sports fans in Los Angeles turn to watch reruns of games on cable TV aired during the coronavirus lockdown, they will be interrupted by ads funded by the union representing technicians who worked on those broadcasts.
“Sinclair turned its back on technicians who bring you sports, left them to fend for themselves,” the ad says. “So when you turn on your TV or pay your cable bill, remember how Sinclair abandoned its workers.”
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is airing cable TV ads on Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned Fox Sports networks to pressure the company to improve compensation for technicians who had been set to work on televised games. The union represents about 1,500 workers in a dozen markets where Sinclair-owned sports networks operate.
The TV ad is part of a weeks-long campaign the union launched after Sinclair offered the workers $2,500 loans rather than pay them for work on canceled games, as some other networks have done.
Maryland-based Sinclair, known for its conservative news broadcasts, said in a statement that hundreds of workers were using its loan program.
“Our objective continues to be providing immediate relief to the more than 1,000 freelancers who regularly work with us to deliver the best in live, local sports,” Sinclair spokesman Ronn Torossian said in an email. “We determined that this initiative was what our company could offer at this time.”
The ad campaign highlights the pressure on corporate employers to act ethically and equitably treat workers, many of whom are struggling to access emergency federal funds and turning to food banks across the country.
Media companies are struggling financially to navigate the pandemic that has shut down many sources of revenue, such as theme parks, movie theaters and live sports. The production halt came at a particularly crucial time for those working on sports broadcasts, as they were set to enter their busiest season.
“Most of the employers have worked with us closely because they value their employees and they realize both the value they bring their companies and the dire straits that they are in right now having lost all of their work ,” said Fran O’Hern, co-director of broadcast for IATSE. “Almost every other regional sports network operator has stepped up to pay their crews for at least a portion of work that would have been done thus far.”
Sinclair, one of the nation’s largest owners of TV stations, acquired 21 of the Fox regional sports networks, which once were part of Rupert Murdoch’s sports and news empire, in a $9.6-billion deal last year. It emerged as the winner in an auction for the popular sports channels, including Fox Sports West, Prime Ticket and Fox Sports San Diego. The local outlets televise Angels, Clippers, Kings, Ducks and Padres games.
Each game broadcast would have typically employed about 50 technicians. Sinclair’s approach stands in contrast to other networks. The Walt Disney-owned ABC, CBS, AT&T-owned Turner and Comcast-owned NBC networks have paid workers fully for canceled games and events that they were scheduled to work, a spokesman for IATSE said.
IATSE has said that the repayment terms on the loans Sinclair is offering are onerous and that Sinclair is no longer making contributions to its sports broadcast technicians’ healthcare or retirement funds.
Sinclair was thrust into in the spotlight in the last couple of years after it emerged that it had mandated “must run” politically conservative content on local TV stations, leading some anchors and correspondents to refuse to read the promotional statements or leave the network. Founded by engineer Julian Sinclair Smith in 1971 with a single independent outlet in Baltimore, it has grown into a multibillion-dollar business.