Dozens of freelance employees for Fox Sports Detroit, now out of work with the Pistons' and Red Wings' seasons shut down and the Tigers' delayed indefinitely, can receive a $2,500 interest-free advance, the network's parent company announced Wednesday night.
Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 21 regional-sports networks from coast to coast, said it has set up an emergency fund worth multiple millions of dollars.
Nearly 1,000 freelance production workers are eligible for the advances, starting April 3.
FSD carries the Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, and it takes 25 or more freelance workers to put on a broadcast, including truck personnel, camera operators and stage managers.
“This is an unprecedented time for the world and the media, but few in our industry are feeling the impacts of the coronavirus more than those who work in sports,” Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said in the company's statement Wednesday night. “Across the nation, these nearly 1,000 freelancers work tirelessly season after season to bring fans the best in live sports. As we face this extraordinary event, we are hoping that this fund will provide integral assistance to our key team members.”
Sinclair announced that the loans are available for any freelancers who have worked "regularly" on a regional sports network in a home market this year.
Visiting-team freelancers for sports networks, who often are actually local contractors, aren't eligible. Many are being paid by the home teams, including apparently the Ilitches with the Red Wings.
Sinclair said the loans can be paid back in small increments once the seasons start up again, or in Major League Baseball's case, start at all.
“Clearly we are in uncharted waters, but hopefully the ability to immediately draw from this fund will make a real difference for our dedicated production community,” said Jeff Krolik, Sinclair’s president of local sports, also in a statement. “We expect that the postponement of games is indeed just that — a postponement —and that ultimately the games will be played.”
All professional sports leagues are essentially shut down through at least mid-May, with reassessments coming on a regular basis.
Sinclair bought FSD and the other regional-sports networks for more than $10 billion from The Walt Disney Company, which was forced to sell by the U.S. Justice Department over monopoly concerns. Disney also owns the ESPN franchise. Disney acquired the sports networks in its acquisition of 21st Century Fox.
FSD's deal with the Tigers and Wings, which pumps at least $50 million a year into the Tigers' coffers and a substantially lesser amount into the Wings', is set to expire early this decade.