As we move through the COVID 19 pandemic our sports world has been put on hold. Clearly without widespread testing, especially, and the reality of asymptomatic carriers, one must ask when is the right time? I am not talking about the granular issues related to the science, but some practical concerns that those who have never sat in a production truck might not understand
One of the scenarios that has been bandied about concerns playing games or matches without fans in attendance. Without addressing the absence of crowd energy, both for the players/participants and the on-air analysts, what about the technical team, the below-the-line production teams that bring the television signal to the consumer?
The television audience gets to see the action along with the story telling added by the on-air talent, but that is a two-dimensional based perception. The third dimension, as it were, is the production team, namely, the team sitting in the mobile production unit or units, the camera operators and the crew that sets up the facility. For the uninitiated, an NFL game, for example, will generally have at least two mobile production facilities, 50 plus foot trailers filled with people working in close quarters. This, of course, raises the question of how is social distancing possible in such an environment? In regional sports the problem gets worse, as the teams try and produce the home and away feeds out of a single "dual production" truck.
Even before dealing with this general question, one cannot lose sight of the potential labor and employment issues or, more critically here, the labor relations issues. While there are some non-union productions, most sports productions have union crews through one of the technical unions, IATSE or IBEW or NABET. While there may be some general labor and employment issues regarding the health and safety of workers, those issues are clearly part of the operative Collective Bargaining Agreements (“CBA’s”) which govern the collectively bargained for conditions of employment.
Before the network can bring the audience live sports it must first be able to crew a production team. Even if the network has developed a plan, does it comply with the operative CBA? This, of course, will likely run parallel to the same issues in the CBA’s for on-air talent and the directors. Moreover, how do you protect the players from the production crew? So, even if leagues, conferences and other organizations that control broadcast rights want to hold games and matches without crowds, will the production teams even be available?
This has been a quick 30,000-foot view, but for those who believe that the hack to bring sports back to television would simply be empty stadiums, I would like to suggest that it won’t be that simple.
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