Pac-12 Networks Shafts Broadcast Technicians

Sandra England
This piece originally appeared in Beyond Chron on May 5, 2014



Has income inequality really become the “defining challenge of our time” as President Obama has proclaimed?

One look at the number one book on Amazon’s bestseller list, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which scrutinizes income inequality and capitalism, and you might be convinced that people do care.

Tell that to the Pac-12 Networks.

Based in San Francisco, this billion-dollar TV sports network with non-profit status, has undercut its broadcast technicians’ wages and refuses to contribute to its workers’ national health coverage and retirement security.

Yes, that’s right, broadcast technicians–the folks who bring you the “Plays of the Week,” March Madness tournaments and College Football Game Day. The ones who identify the crazy stats you love to quote, record the players’ and coaches’ voices on the field, and create on-screen graphics that dazzle.

These are highly skilled professionals who form an integral part of our middle class, help drive consumer spending and keep our economy rolling.

Of course, Pac-12 Networks is “not a typical sports network,” to quote Larry Scott, Pac-12’s commissioner who also holds the distinction of being the highest paid commissioner in college sports.

Mr. Scott is right and here’s why.

Pac-12 Networks is the first college sports television conference entirely owned its members, which includes Cal, UCLA, Stanford and USC as well as eight other public universities in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

Presidents at these universities comprise Pac-12 Networks’ “CEO Group.”

Since its launch in August 2012, Pac-12 Networks stunned the TV sports entertainment world when it sold the rights to just one “Game of the Week” to Fox/ESPN over 12 years for a mere $3 billion. It also retained the rights to its other sports entertainment broadcasts and has inked distribution deals with Cox Communications, Comcast, Bright House Networks and Time Warner cable companies for undisclosed amounts.

In other words, the not-for-profit Pac-12 Networks is doing quite well.

Broadcast technicians in the Pac-12 states have fought hard over several years to establish area standard wages and benefits in their industry. But Pac-12 Networks refuses to play fair. It touts its “unique and flexible” business model as justification for driving down middle-class wages and stripping technicians of their benefits.

And in a move that would make Wal-Mart envious, Pac-12 Networks has perfected the 21st century plantation business model, relying on the generous use of free or cheap student “internships” to keep costs low. While internships can provide valuable student training, they do not “explain away” robbing middle-class technicians of their livelihoods.

What would it cost Pac-12 Networks to pay broadcast technicians area standard wages and benefits?

Between $750,000 and $900,000 per year, less than one-third of the Pac-12 Networks Commissioner salary.

So where are Pac-12 Networks’ billions going? Into football coaches’ salaries? Pac-12 Networks’ executive compensation? New stadiums?

Yes to all of the above.

According to the New York Times, Pac-12 Networks’ revenues are fueling a construction boom on its member campuses. For example, Washington State has added 89,000 square feet, 42 loge boxes and 23 luxury suites to its football facilities. New football coaches Chris Peterson of University of Washington and Steve Sarkisian at USC signed multimillion-dollar contracts.

How did this happen and what can we do?

Public money supports ten of the Pac-12 Networks’ member universities. These colleges should reflect our values. And if we, as a society, remain committed to preserving and growing our middle class, our public institutions including Pac-12 universities should pay area standards and benefits at every level of the college workforce. Here are three things you can do today:

If we are serious about saving our middle class from extinction, we need to take a stand now, starting with our public institutions.


Sandra England is the Director of Broadcasting for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the world’s largest entertainment union.