Striking union actors, still smarting from Tiger Woods’ defection, are launching a series of ads aimed at keeping athletes from becoming strikebreakers.
“As we enter the 16th week of our strike, you will come under increasing pressure from advertising agencies and the products they represent to perform nonunion commercial shoots,” said the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists in an open letter to athletes and their reps. “Your courage and commitment will be severely tested.”
The ad, which will appear in next week’s Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal, also thanks those athletes who have honored the strike and asserts that the goal is to benefit “all commercial performers, whether professional actor or athlete.”
The strategy appears to be designed to counteract the excuses offered for defying SAG and AFTRA. Woods, who filmed a nonunion Buick ad in late July, and other athlete strikebreakers have contended that they broke ranks because of obligations from their endorsement contracts.
“Federal labor law specifically protects your right as a union member to honor the strike, notwithstanding any pre-existing personal services contract,” the letter said. “You can legally refuse to honor your contract during the strike. It’s that simple.”
Interim an option
In the letter, the unions also note that athletes can still perform in ads with SAG and AFTRA’s blessing if the advertiser or agency has signed a union-approved interim agreement. Baseball star Roberto Alomar as well as retired football star John Elway and former teammate Shannon Sharpe have shot such spots.
Woods’ trial board, which could suspend, fine or expel him from SAG, had been set for next week, when it would conflict with the Professional Golfers Assn. championship. It has not been rescheduled, but is likely to take place in September, a SAG rep said.
Besides Woods, other athlete-strikebreakers have included basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, track stars Marion Jones and Michael Johnson and football players Terrell Davis, Eddie George, Keyshawn Johnson, John Lynch and Kurt Warner. O’Neal and Keyshawn Johnson have said they remain supportive of the strike and will not shoot other nonunion ads.
Sports marketing consultant David Carter said the decision by SAG and AFTRA to go directly to the athletes and managers shows that the unions have strong concerns about further strikebreaking.
“It’s a high-stakes game because high-paid athletes may not feel much connection to actors even though a huge amount of their income comes from off-the-field activities,” he noted. “Once you get into star status, it’s tough to claim that you’re just an athlete any more.”
Woods decided in the first days of the strike to cancel a nonunion Nike ad. Others who have spurned offers of non-union work include cyclist Lance Armstrong, baseball star Nomar Garciaparra and basketball stars Dikembe Motumbo and Alonzo Mourning.
No pro baseball player has yet crossed a picket line. The Major League Players Assn., by far the most militant sports union, told its members early in the strike not to accept struck work.
“Our players recognize the importance of a strong union,” MLPA spokesman Greg Bouris said.