The Freelance Diaries: Will social distancing measures suck all the fun out of working in sports production?

"My feeling is, if we don't move with the times we may be tossed aside."

In her latest guest blog, freelance sports production manager Natalie Diamond highlights that while the return of live sport is welcome, freelancers are increasingly worried about their livelihoods and what their place of work might look like if/when they return.

Like many freelancers, I’ve recently made a point of reading the industry-wide TV production guidelines that are now in place as a result of COVID-19.

The text clearly states within the basic requirements of the risk assessment guidance: ‘3. Reduce the numbers of people involved.’ So, there it is in black and white. Our worst fears have been realised.

Remote production is the way forward in these times too and I have read on Linkedin that two leading broadcasters will also make a significant reduction in the volume of studio productions they make. This will see a team of nearly 60 people reduced to only six or seven onsite. That is another significant cut in the use of staff and/or freelancers.

The guidelines certainly make for interesting reading on how the industry will now create content and discusses the need for a feedback loop as this is unchartered territory for everyone.

As the director of a limited company, I feel pretty much in the dark right now. After all, I am not a staff member learning about how her company will proceed in these times. As such, I need to be proactive in any possible way.

Included in the guidelines, and what has become increasingly apparent, is that there will be a need for training around health and safety practices regarding COVID-19. Therefore I probably need to reach out to the broadcasters to see if I can be tagged onto any training, at a cost to my company.

“Days of chatting to other co-workers prior to TX while huddled around the tea urn eating biscuits will be a distant memory.”

My feeling is, if I don’t move with the times quickly I, like so many other freelancers may be tossed aside. Staff members will surely take precedence over the hire in of freelancers and in particular for my role as a production manager.

As I had suspected, to reduce the threat of the spread of the virus, broadcasters will be relying heavily on local hires and what concerns me the most is the need to keep working teams (aka cohorts) together this could also mean less work for all: if your name’s not down you’re not coming in!

It may look positive with the green light of Bundesliga and the resuming of Premier League on the horizon but not everyone will be selected to work or line their pockets with those productions.

So, for me, it is time for something new. I’m into the second month of a ten-month diploma which I decided to take up in April. I’m studying cognitive Hypnotherapy and NLP. The course is heavily theory-based and grounded in science and maybe a new direction for me to take post-graduation. It’s keeping me busy and my mood light. I’ve recently suggested to a few colleagues that they could perhaps do the same.

Courses don’t have to be expensive and there is a plethora of them available online. Now seems like a really good time to brush up on industry skills or learn something completely new. After all, there is only so much sitting around and waiting one person can do and you need to look after your mental health.

On another note, it has taken some 140 appointments since 23 March for my accountant to get back to me.

Like so many other freelancers I’ve waited an eternity to understand my financial situation. Therefore, I’ve only just made the decision not to furlough as both my taxes and corporation tax will increase significantly. Shortly after this realisation, I was hit with my corporation tax bill: you couldn’t write this if you tried!

There has been almost no support for limited companies and it’s a good job I am currently not the main breadwinner in my family.

Meanwhile, my fiancé is still working from his home office and it appears that it will be like this for the foreseeable.

“Colleagues who test negative will make their way to sterile compound environments and stay in their positions until the production is complete. What a strange world we now live in!”

If the R rate is kept low it’s only a matter of months perhaps before he gets back on site but it probably won’t be for any international gig – or will it?

From my perspective, the new measures will seek to suck the fun out of any working environment. Days of chatting to other co-workers prior to TX while huddled around the tea urn eating biscuits will be a distant memory.

Colleagues who test negative will make their way to sterile compound environments and stay in their positions until the production is complete. What a strange world we now live in!

Homelife is much the same for me, although the return of some children to school is a concern. I’m keeping mine back. I’m more concerned for their mental health.

Pods of children and teachers unable to socialise with other pods and white lines being painted outside school gates scream of something out of a horror movie. I’ll take my chances, keep them at home and see what unfolds.

With the infection rate slowing and the number and frequency of deaths decreasing, there is a gradual progression in the right direction so we need to take these positives and run with them. But we all need to play our part and be mindful of the rules in place.

As Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the UK’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer recently said when discussing the lifting of restrictions “don’t tear the pants out of it”. The same could also be said of sports television production.

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