How should you begin negotiating game fees? One thing to be sure of is to get your facts straight. Be certain, for example, that fees have actually been in place for 15 years before you assert that 15 years of inflation have gone by without an upward adjustment in fees. Don't be shot down by contradictory facts mustered by your adversaries, those administrators who hold the pursestrings.
The first consideration in any contention about fees should be one of parity. That means current and prospective fees should be comparable payouts for similar services and/or expenditures for the same services (officiating) by similar but separate geographic entities, such as schools or rec centers in neighboring precincts.
Put simply, if the schools in the next county pay umpires more per game, be sure to use that as leverage for a raise in your own district. Does the chain crew creeping up and down the sidelines at upstate football games haul in more than your game officials? If so, be sure to use that as a "wedge" in your petition.
Years ago a campaign to increase fees was conducted by several officiating groups in Illinois. In that case the fee question was tied to working expectations.
For more than 30 years the schools in suburban Chicago had employed the same set of officials for doubleheaders, the varsity game and the preliminary game, be it a sophomore or JV contest, in both football and basketball.
There were a half dozen competing associations ringing the Chicago area, and the problem was getting them to act in concert for a change in policy. An old-time basketball official named Joe Friend made the initial breach himself. Struck a blow for equity on his own. "I'm getting too creaky to work two games on a Friday night," he wrote the athletic directors in one league. "How about if I bring a promising young official with me to whistle the prelim? I'll pay him out of my game fee, and I'll supervise his performance also."
What could those athletic directors do? Joe was a sterling official. Do you want him to work that second game if he's wobbling? If you tell him "no dice," how might that affect the quality of his work? Joe Friend had them over a barrel. The ADs meekly acquiesced.
Following those developments a couple of brave souls called around to various officiating associations and asked for a meeting to work on plans to promote separate crews to handle the games on a wider scale, officially. Naturally, that would mean additional outlays for the schools, because if the two-game fee were simply split in half, varsity officials would feel denigrated and they would raise a fuss.
When the representatives got together and strategized about how to phrase their argument (individual fatigue of officials clearly was one persuasive stance: "Do you want an official making the most critical call in the varsity game when he just can't get into position because he's run out of gas?"), several wise heads said, "How can we offer something positive in return?" And the answers were: (1) we'll set up special training programs for those newly anointed prelim officials, (2) we'll send veteran officials for a preseason chalk talk to explain rules to your teams, and (3) we'll work your preseason scrimmages gratis.
But the reps felt that they had to hang their hats on something else too. The answer was an appeal to equity, helped along by some "inside dope" furnished by educators who were members of the association.
How much do you pay your ticket sellers at sporting events? What about the people who chaperone buses? Does the cop who waves cars in and out of the parking lot get a larger stipend than the officials? How about the announcer and scorekeeper? Do people who judge speech and music events get reimbursed on a similar scale? Must those judges take qualifying exams and don special uniforms, and are they ever harassed by fans and coaches?
The answers, as you might have guessed, aside from the fact that these "servants" received neither grief nor glory, was that in most cases these "program administrators," basically devoid of what could be called "marketable skills," were compensated a lot more than officials on the firing line, sometimes twice as much. Spark your interest? Those adjunct roles are often supported by strong unions, that's the reason.
Another venture into equity: Mr. AD, your entire officiating budget will rise only 1 /10 of a new gymnastics mat, 1 /100 of an electronic timing device for track and swimming, and 1 /1,000 of a new set of stadium bleachers. Almost petty cash, as a matter of fact, "peanuts" compared to your "large-ticket" items.
Needless to say, the consortium of officials got its way. The officials addressed a polite letter to athletic conference principals. Several articulate and moderate individuals then met with the athletic conference administrators and presented their case, and it became a done deal. They gathered a lot of data and presented it subtly and carefully, without waving arms and threatening. "Here's what we'd like; we are convinced it will benefit your programs. Help us achieve it. We're just looking for fairness ..."
Nowadays, when deliberations such as that take place, there should probably be an extra ingredient in the mix: "To assure our safety, we want private dressing facilities, apart from teams and coaches, and escorts all the while we are on your premises." But make sure you are thorough in arming yourself with a solid "game plan" before negotiations; then see to it that you have something to give as well as to get.