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An Artistic Sweatshop: My Saying "No" to a National Sports Team:

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

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By Andrea Lynn Cianflone

Who doesn’t love a great sporting event! You get to hang around with your friends, family, or colleagues. You presumably have a love for the sport itself. I love sports too as my childhood was filled with arts and athletics! Food, drinks, and music abounds! Maybe you even placed a bet on the game hoping to walk away with some cash in hand.

A lot of green passes hands in the sports industry: sponsorships from companies, advertising spend, million-dollar coach and player contracts, ticket sales. Oh, the list goes on! Somehow with all the overhead of producing weekly extraordinary sporting events, it seems some of these companies have forgotten (uh-hum ‘decided’) the just wage of performance workers is unnecessary. Take for instance a national sports team who years back expressed a strong interest in having me perform. I was so excited to have this ‘opportunity’…until I read the email:

“…We would not be able to provide compensation or cover travel. We normally pull talent from local artists so unfortunately this would be the only way it may work.”

Let me get this straight. The company desires for me to front the bill for taking time off from my daily work, travel cross country, give a gratis performance ticket to thousands of its customers, and this some $300 million yearly revenue boasting company decides its company will not pay anything: no travel, no hotel lodging, no work remuneration, nothing? Companies operating like this love when you entertain their stakeholders: ticket holders, their audiences, their families, their loves ones, their friends, under the manipulative guise of some artist “gain” like “exposure, notoriety, fame.” They may often lead with campaign slogans like, “We support our artists.”

No, you don’t.

Like a narcissistic boyfriend who says, “See girlfriend, look how privileged you are to date me,” I am going to share a couple reasons why I decided to walk away from this bad-boyfriend-business-dating relationship:

  • Market exposure is part of the game of being a performing artist.

  • Building a brand perception of “you’ve made it big by this performance” can have detrimental consequences, because the performance remuneration that would have been obtained is not present to continue the sustenance of your artistic business.

  • It was more important for me to set precedence for the appropriate remuneration of working-class artists than to cave to my desire for ‘supposed market exposure.’

  • The company pays the unspecialized skilled positions (i.e. the beer and popcorn person) more than the person with the specialized skill (i.e. the performing artist). It tells me the company does not value me for my trade nor does it even begin to understand how to structure employee compensation. I do not know many people who question the specialized skills of say a doctor or athletic trainer’s payscale in the first 15 minutes of an appointment or the $450 hourly fee of some attorney’s time. I imagine this sports team rarely questioned the invoice from either sector of those businesses.

  • Low wage is one of many factors that impact the well-being of working-class artists and can lead to a slew of quality life issues: autoimmune disease, mental health decline, et al. and I will not be a part of a company who consciously chooses business structures that support the demise of its employees, contractors, or feed the increase of vulnerable populations.

Any company who clearly can afford to remunerate its employees and contractors (as I have illustrated above) and electively decides ‘no wages is normal’ is worse than a sweatshop and these artistic sweatshops need to be shut down. You go to work, you get paid. Keep it simple.


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