UPDATED: Sinclair Broadcast Group will pay more than 1,000 of its eligible freelance sports broadcast technicians $2,500 each in the second phase of its assistance program, Variety has learned exclusively.
A company spokesman said Friday that the payment — a response to the COVID-19 pandemic — will total more than $3 million. The payment comes nearly two months after Sinclair offered an interest-free advance of $2,500 to the network freelancers who work at its Fox regional sports networks and Marquee Sports Network.
“We said in the beginning that we were operating with the understanding that games would only be postponed, not canceled, and that we would reevaluate our policy once we had more information,” a spokesman said. “This week’s news from MLB now makes it inevitable that some number of games will be cancelled, so we are rolling out Phase 2 of our response plan.”
Major League Baseball hopes to begin the regular season in early July, but must first convince the MLB Players Association to sign off on return-to-play protocol.
Sinclair’s interest-free offer provoked a negative response from leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, who said Sinclair’s response was inadequate and contrasted with offers made by CBS, Fox, ESPN and NBC to technicians for compensation and benefit contributions for canceled events.
IATSE also began airing “Sinclair Striking Out With Workers” spots last month on cable systems in Southern California and online in Baltimore (Sinclair’s headquarters market).
Fran O’Hern, co-director of the IATSE Broadcast Department, said in response on May 26, “All along we said, ‘Sinclair could do better’ – and they ultimately did. We wish Sinclair had fairly compensated sports broadcast technicians working for Sinclair-owned regional sports networks at the start of the pandemic for lost work, rather than just offer loans. IATSE found it necessary to reach out to the public, through television advertisements, social media and other means to ‘broadcast’ the company’s actions.”
“We’re pleased, beginning this week, that a large number of broadcast technicians working on Sinclair’s regional sports networks will now receive one-time payments of $2,500. We continue however, to impress upon the company’s executives their obligation to some technicians who regularly work on sports but were not eligible.”
Earlier in the week, several leaders told Variety that the interest-free advance program had not been popular among the rank and file members, noting that many of the more than 2,000 freelance sports broadcast technicians did meet the program’s hours requirement. Chris Tveitbakk, an audio engineer who is president of IATSE Local 745 in Minnesota, said none of the 40 members who qualified for the offer had participated.
Leah Williams, a stage manager and VP of IATSE Local 748 in Phoenix, said only 46 of her 200 members had qualified to participate in the interest-free advance program.
“We’re hurting,” she said. “The spring sports season in Phoenix is the equivalent of Christmas — spring training, college basketball.”