I Was Laid Off From My Sports Arena Job Because of COVID-19
What happens to live entertainment when people can’t go out? Lots of uncertainty. And lots of unemployment.
Outside of the top rung, the sports, music and entertainment industries are well-known for their long hours and low pay. The great majority of those who work in those fields are doing it out of passion. A mid-level marketing professional for a sports team could easily transfer skills to another industry and enjoy better pay and better hours—no question. The same goes for an operations manager at a stadium or arena with extensive organizational skills and the 60-to-80-hour per week work ethic that the job demands. But they don’t: They love what they do too much.
Even getting a full-time, salaried job in the industry is a steep uphill battle. This was one of the first things that I learned as I got my start working game days for my local MLB team in college. I worked there for three seasons while simultaneously picking up a number of other part-time and internship positions with multiple other professional sports teams and facilities. After graduating with my business degree, I made a thousand-mile move to take another internship that I thought would help me reach my professional goal of a full-time position in sports. At one point during my internship, I was working four other part-time jobs, all within the world of sports and entertainment, to bolster my resume.
I was spending far too much time at work, but I was absolutely loving it.
Shortly after my internship concluded, I was finally offered what I had been working so incredibly hard for: a full-time position with the sports arena in my hometown. My part-time experience with two MLB teams, two NHL teams, one NBA team, two arenas, one professional sports league, a sports museum and more had finally paid off.
Breaking Into the Live Events Business Was Already Challenging—Then Came the Pandemic
My first full-time opportunity wasn’t in a department that I wanted to be in long-term, but I knew that if I worked hard and impressed my superiors, I’d have a chance to be promoted to my dream position within the organization. For ten months, I worked an average of 50-60 hours per week without overtime pay, just to build up my good reputation and learn about the operations of the arena. Once my dream position opened up, I excitedly applied, interviewed and got the job.
My first three months in the new position—which required a ton of specialized experience that I was incredibly excited to learn—was mostly training and figuring out what the heck to do. As it turns out, there are a lot of steps to be taken to turn an arena from a hockey rink to a concert in under 12 hours! I started with limited responsibility that quickly ramped up as I gained more experience, and I started to really enjoy it as much as I dreamt I would.
That was at the beginning of 2020. My next five months of work were spent on Zoom, making up tasks to do for an events job without events. Then I was laid off, along with over 230 other full-time staff from the same organization. We are all now jobless.
From vice presidents to coordinators, no one was safe.
When I think about the negative effects of the pandemic on the industry that I love, I mostly think about the part-time workers and the students. Besides the full-time staff at my facility getting laid off, over 1,000 part-time workers—ushers, ticket takers, concessions workers, suite attendants, operations employees, box office staff, security staff, stagehands—were now without their usual event gigs. Part-time staff typically have the opportunity to work 300-plus events every year, and while it's supplemental income for some of them, for others the part-time grind is their main source of income. Overall, an incomprehensibly large number of people had just lost their ability to work for the foreseeable future.
The Industry’s Future Is Not Looking Bright
Put yourself in the shoes of a sports management student in the current landscape. You are studying an industry that is currently dead, where there are virtually zero jobs. You have almost no ability to get hands-on experience in the industry, even part-time, and there are no full-time jobs available.
Once large groups can gather again and positions in the industry slowly become available, your application will be up against those with full-time experience who were laid off during the pandemic. Many of the connections you made during your internships are now useless, since your previous employers are also unemployed, or working in a totally different industry. All of the knowledge that you previously gained in your part-time positions has significantly lessened in value, as post-pandemic operations will be vastly different from what you experienced. You dedicated your money and a good portion of your young life to a career that is virtually unattainable for the foreseeable future.
That, ladies and gentlemen, sucks.
It's Not Just the Stars Who Are Out of Work
Now think of all of the sports facilities, arenas, stadiums, theaters and other venues across the country that were forced into a similar position. Not only was your favorite artist’s world tour canceled, but the thousands of laborers, truck drivers, business partners and road staff who make their events possible are without work.
Not only can you not go to your favorite team’s home games, but the thousands of employees who make a living out of coordinating the events for you to enjoy are not there either. Many careers have ended, many dreams have been crushed and many great people have been left lost due to the effects of this awful pandemic on the sports and entertainment industry.
We were the first to go and we will be one of the last to come back.