ESPN X Games Memo Asks Staffers To Work For Free And Not Make Fun Of Brazilian PeopleS

ESPN's X Games are slouching toward Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, the first of three new international host cities, where competition begins next week and where staffers are arriving to find that their mellows have already been thoroughly harshed. It seems that money is tight in this corner of the $40 billion empire—tight enough that production assistants are being asked, nicely and obliquely, to work for free. A tipster passes along a memo sent by ESPN operations manager Severn Sandt. It includes the following:

Finally, I’m going to be completely honest with you: this global X Games series is far from a sure thing long-term. Financially, things are extremely difficult. I have personally banged my head against the budget wall for countless hours, especially on this event. Every negotiation has been exhausting, trying to wring every spare reais out of it. Please help me to keep your part of the budget in line.

Sandt pleads with staffers to be judicious about charging overtime. Maybe PAs wouldn't mind working a few hours pro bono?

Hourly folks - don’t push the OT. If it’s 9:10, take the 9:00 out – don’t push for 9:30. Heck, maybe you’d like to actually contribute an hour or two of your OT to the cause and take a 7:00 out. Trust me – no one’s going to the bank on this one. If this idea appeals to anyone, we can start an honorary wall of contributors in the office.

And will you all please stop taking so much free water? Buy your own snacks and sunscreen:

Don’t stuff 6 bottles of water from the work site into your backpack before you go back to the hotel. Buy your own water. Considering that all of our hotels provide free breakfast and we are providing 3 meals a day on site, you are getting a very generous per diem. Please use part of it to buy the water, the aspirin, the sunscreen, the lip balm, the snacks, etc etc that you need. Yes, domestic remotes often provide these things and we will have an emergency supply of some things in the office but we just can’t take on the full load of this here.

And please don't mock the Brazilians until you're back in the States:

Don’t make fun of the people here or the way they do things: You might find things you see here backward, ludicrous, even stupid. Hold your laughter till you get back home. We need these people to put the event on so don’t insult them.

The globalization of the X Games has been pitched as bullish expansion—Munich and Barcelona are the other cities—but in reality it's more of a pilot program, one being launched in the shadow of Caleb Moore's death. The ESPN exec in charge of the X Games conceded recently that "we probably underestimated the complexity and time required to sell local sponsorships in markets that have less familiarity with our brand and event."

But asking PAs to work for free for a couple of hours? When ESPN is one of the biggest profit centers in all of media? That's really awful.

Here's the memo in full:

Subject: X Games Foz do Iguacu Hello from Foz do Iguacu,

Most of you know me but for those who don’t, I am the senior TV operations person on the X Games Remote in Foz. First and foremost, I am here to keep a watchful eye on your well-being. After that, the buck stops with me when it comes to any logistical, operations or personnel issues regarding the TV coverage and the people involved in it. I’ve been to Foz twice before on survey trips and I’m excited to be here now, along with a great team including Patty Mattero, Stephen Raymond, Ian Ossher and Steve Widuch, to actually get things underway. I wanted to give you a few things to think about on your trip here– the benefit of my time on the ground, on the phone and on email working on this project for the past year:

  • Bring your patience: Many people in Brazil do not operate at the same pace as most of us do. This is a big weakness of mine. I am used to getting things done NOW and that concept virtually does not exist here. Getting service at the hotel could be slow. Getting a cab could take time. You could be told, “yeah, a guy will come chain your tripod down in the next half hour,” then say it again in a half hour, and again a half hour after that, and then maybe 4 hours later it could actually happen. This is the kind of reality you must handle without losing it.
  • Be willing to do things yourselves, take initiative, and help one another: Because of the above, we need you to get out of the mind-set of how you’re used to things on a remote at home. If you can do it yourself here, do. If you can solve it yourself, do. If no one has given you something to do, don’t just stand there and don’t hide (I will find you) - ask your tech manager or one of the ops team what you can do to help. If Patty is unloading a truck and you have nothing to do, help her unload that truck. Yes, I mean you! We promise we won’t tell anyone. If a local crew guy is having trouble building a camera, help him. Remember when you were breaking into the business or when you got your first job, how you were willing to do anything, to help with anything, because you were so eager just to be there? Reach back to that mind-set and bring it here.
  • Think about where you’re going: Don’t get on the plane like you’re going to Chicago. You’re going to another country. At least learn the Portuguese words for please and thank you. Know that you’ll probably need an adapter for your computer’s power cord and bring one. Bring bug repellent and sunscreen. Keep track of your passport.
  • Don’t make fun of the people here or the way they do things: You might find things you see here backward, ludicrous, even stupid. Hold your laughter till you get back home. We need these people to put the event on so don’t insult them.
  • Make us proud: You’ve heard it before but it’s worth repeating and really embracing - when you come to Foz, you will come as a representative of ESPN and of the US. Your behavior will contribute to the next conversation a given person has when someone asks, “oh, you worked on that X Games thing. What were those ESPN people like? Are those Americans really jerks?” How do you want them to respond?

Finally, I’m going to be completely honest with you: this global X Games series is far from a sure thing long-term. Financially, things are extremely difficult. I have personally banged my head against the budget wall for countless hours, especially on this event. Every negotiation has been exhausting, trying to wring every spare reais out of it. Please help me to keep your part of the budget in line. Some things to consider:

  • Hourly folks - don’t push the OT. If it’s 9:10, take the 9:00 out – don’t push for9:30. Heck, maybe you’d like to actually contribute an hour or two of your OT to the cause and take a 7:00 out. Trust me – no one’s going to the bank on this one. If this idea appeals to anyone, we can start an honorary wall of contributors in the office.
  • Don’t stuff 6 bottles of water from the work site into your backpack before you go back to the hotel. Buy your own water. Considering that all of our hotels provide free breakfast and we are providing 3 meals a day on site, you are getting a very generous per diem. Please use part of it to buy the water, the aspirin, the sunscreen, the lip balm, the snacks, etc etc that you need. Yes, domestic remotes often provide these things and we will have an emergency supply of some things in the office but we just can’t take on the full load of this here.
  • Just help out. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s your job. We are more efficient when everyone does a little of everything.
  • You are part of a select group that has been hand-picked to work on X Games in Brazil. This is an opportunity to make our mark creating a new event in a unique place. Make us proud. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Sev
p.s. If you haven’t read enough already, here are a few practical tips
It’s rainy – bring rain gear
It’s muddy – bring work boots you don’t care about ruining – see photo below
It’s buggy – bring repellent
It’s hot – for me, jeans are out – they’re too hot and get sodden in the humidity. Quick-dry type hiking pants/shorts/tops are best (see REI/Cabela’s/EMS etc)
It can be really sunny – bring sunscreen and a hat
This will be one for the ages so bring your camera and positive attitude!