Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Unpaid Internships in Performance Analysis: My View

A lot has been said recently about Performance Analysis internships within football. Reading advertising a year long, full time, unpaid internship sparked a debate which was even picked up by the Independent and various fair trade organisations.

I have commented previously on my experiences with internships (as one myself I feel in a good position to comment but my experiences won’t be the same as everybody’s)

The furore kicked up seems to chiefly criticise Reading but anybody who has finished University or has a background in performance and has tried to get a job within football knows full well the difficulties in getting a paid job, especially in an emerging field such as Performance Analysis

I had planned to do this post closer to the summer when I knew the internship opportunities would start rolling around again but many clubs seem more organised for next year and are advertising posts for the 2013/14 season early!!

Analysis of Advertised Jobs

For the past 18 Months for my own benefit I’ve been keeping a log of all performance analysis jobs advertised across a variety of sites. These are all jobs both paid and unpaid and was initially so I could keep track of which ones to apply for but it became evident that a lot of the jobs were unpaid that were advertised.

Now, football is a secretive business that most people will never know the insides of. Many jobs, even at Performance Analysis level are “headhunted” and therefore never advertised, so it may be a little one sided but most people WON’T already have a job and will look extensively on the websites to see what is available

The graphic below shows the breakdown of jobs that have been advertised over the past 18 months, broken down by the stated remuneration.











So, it’s not a recent thing that almost all advertised performance analysis jobs come with very little expectation of an initial salary. It’s great that this argument is seeing the light of day but to haul Reading in particular over the coals is a little unfair on them.

The graph attached does show that the majority of paid jobs come from Premier League clubs. This is along with the presumed expectation that more jobs are headhunted behind the scenes by Premier League clubs, while not fully exonerating offering unpaid internships, means at least they are trying. The problem actually comes lower down the leagues, where there is less money, but more unpaid positions. Does a lack of money in the budget excuse a club hiring somebody unpaid? If you can’t afford a commodity then surely you don’t buy it, getting it for free isn’t really an ethical way to do it.


All the above just covers the jobs advertised within Performance Analysis, I have to say I also see a lot of jobs within the other Sports Science disciplines which are advertised as internships just as much, particularly Strength & Conditioning ones. I don’t record these as it’s not an area I’m interested in but I’m sure there are plenty advertised which are unpaid across the various divisions. There also seems to be a difference in pay between the salaried Sports Science jobs and Performance Analysis jobs, but that’s probably another issue entirely!!

Another point to mention in all this is that a lot of clubs have links with universities for placement students and instead of offering internships do things that way. There’s still a debate about this, while it’s great that students are getting exposure and see the actual workings of a club, they are still essentially working for free. I did a sandwich course at university (albeit in business) but I got paid for my year out, learning my trade whilst also contributing to the running of the business. Should football be any different?

Positives & Negatives

Of course, even if the internships are unpaid there are positives and negatives. I’ve evaluated some below.

Positives

In the right situations the learning experience is something you wouldn’t get in any other circumstances. The chance to learn from paid professionals acting as a mentor is unrivalled and you can be exposed to situations that you can’t be prepared for in a classroom.

Of course this is only the case if you are learning and not either just doing a job and they aren’t paying you (in which case it shouldn’t be classed as an internship it should be a voluntary post) or if there is nobody able to teach you any additional skills.

Second point is, if football clubs didn’t advertise internships would there be an opportunity at all for performance analysis within the professional game? Who knows the answer to the one but football is historically resistant to change and if they would be forced to pay somebody would they be able to squeeze it from the budget.

The third point is the chance to showcase your abilities and have a chance of being taken on permanently. Many clubs use the Internships as a “proving ground” (notably Blackburn and West Brom but I’m sure it’s the case in many clubs) the problem comes when at the end of the internship no paid job is available and the club then puts out another advert for another intern. If the post is basically a work trial then at least it has some benefits.

Negatives

Obviously the lack of pay for a full year will put off most people. The full time posts (such as the one’s recently advertised by Reading & Huddersfield Town) even restrict you from taking on a second job to at least make some money to live off. This makes a lot of internships elitist in that only those who can be financially supported or have a lot of savings (something most post grad students won’t have). On a personal level I work a full time job and a casual job and do my part time internship in addition to these, regularly working up to 60 hours per week. I would in no way be in a position to leave my paid job to do it unpaid.

By not paying for somebody to do a role, the club is restricting the potential skill base from which they are employing somebody. The best analyst in the country may not be able to prove it as he can’t take on an unpaid job.

While there are obvious exceptions, from the feel I get from the community it seems that the internships don’t often lead to paid jobs and the drop off from people who leave university then do an internship but then follow a different career path due to lack of jobs is very high. I have no foundation to back this up, this is just general feeling from the connections I have made. It is true that you regularly see the same internships offered each season so it makes sense that whoever was previously been doing the job hasn’t been taken on.

While the learning element has been discussed in the positives, there are many occasions when internships just seem to be used to do the jobs that either the analyst doesn’t want to do or are seen as basic. In my opinion just tagging clips in SportsCode does NOT make you an analyst and I don’t think you need a university degree to do this! Football clubs as still resistant to genuine analytics as has recently been discussed at the Sloan Sports Conference (again, there are exceptions) but it is incredibly hard for an intern to get their ideas across and make a genuine difference rather than just doing what they’ve been told to do.

The criteria & demands on many interns are massive. Almost all jobs ask for at least a Degree (in fact 4 of the 55 unpaid jobs asked for a Masters, including unbelievably a non-league team!!) and the expected return from the club such as unsociable and long hours don’t measure up against the rewards in most cases.

Other Points to Note

When the EPPP was launched the rumour was that it would cause a “boom” in the number of performance analysis jobs. While it is good that the Premier League sees the value in performance analysis there is a get out clause in the criteria within the rules







93. Each Club which operates a Category 1 Academy shall employ a minimum of two Full Time Performance Analysts.
94. Each Club which operates a Category 2 Academy shall employ a minimum of two Performance Analysts, one on a Full Time basis, and the other at least Part Time.


Nowhere does it say they need to be paid, so do the EPPP rules encourage employing performance analysts or internships? As yet this expected boom doesn’t seem to have materialised (although a lot of clubs are still waiting for their grading)

Although the Premier League clubs have shown to employ more paid employees than the other divisions, the argument still remains that if the Premier League clubs, with all the money they have coming in, are happy to take on unpaid interns then why should clubs lower down the league ladder, who have much less available budget to spend on areas they still see as non-essential?
The main bone of contention with the recent Reading internship was that it was full time. The argument then stretches that should a part time intern be paid? The difference being that if you work part-time you could quite reasonably have another part-time job to earn some money which you could live on. While this is a reasonable assumption it still doesn’t excuse the fact that you are basically doing a job unpaid for a year (or more in many cases). Do football clubs look at CV’s and think – this guys worked full time plus done 2 other jobs, he’s obviously a hard worker. From the people I’ve spoken to within the game when clubs interview they are only interested in what you can do, not what you’ve done.

An option may be to cap the length of the internship. If somebody does a job for say 3 months unpaid, surely they’ve learnt a hell of a lot in that time? Should they then either be paid or have the skills to get a job elsewhere? The problem with this is that most clubs want consistency across a full league season and often don’t have the time to continuously be training interns, but if that is the case should they have interns, who they are supposed to be mentoring in the first place?

Conclusion

The main concern with internships is how is somebody supposed to live with no money for a year. If the opportunity was there for a paid job afterwards at least there would be a carrot to aim towards but often the same clubs advertise for the same internship positions season after season.

There are some clubs who should be commended. Norwich City have taken on several paid positions, as have Brighton & Hove Albion. Sheffield United have advertised for both paid and unpaid roles and the opportunity seems to be there to grow into a role. West Brom, after advertising for an unpaid role last year, have now offered a small salary (below minimum wage but at least it’s something)

In fact the best opportunities for Performance Analysts seem to come from analysis companies rather than clubs. Prozone, Opta, Onside Analysis & Venatrack have all advertised for paid jobs within the last 12 months. The growth in genuine analytics has been massive in the industry but it is the clubs that are resistant to this.

I will leave you with 2 quotes, the first from Paul Fletcher from the BBC’s article about the Reading situation, the second from Reading themselves, in response to the original story in the Independent.  

Fletcher is adamant that the practice of unpaid internships should continue.

"If I had the choice of sending my son to go and work at a Premier League club for free or to stack shelves in a supermarket for 12 months, then I would send him to a Premier League club," he said.

I’m sure this is fine for Mr Fletcher (an ex-professional footballer) who can afford to send his son to work somewhere unpaid for 12 months. The question he should be asking is why should he have to choose? Why should both jobs not be paid? Can the supermarket afford it more than a Premier League football club!?

A Reading FC spokesman said: “Internships are an important part of career progression and experience building for any individual starting out on the path to their dream job.”

The key phrase here is “Dream Job”. Football clubs are acutely aware that people will work for free – because it’s football. It is most people’s dream job, it’s certainly the closest I’ll ever get. Does this mean people should do it unpaid? Not at all and it is purely exploitative of clubs to think that way.

I’m not asking for the earth, I don’t expect to be paid as much as Yaya Toure or Wayne Rooney, but if I’m doing a job that is valued I would at least expect to be paid enough to live on. I want to make a difference and help a team excel and achieve their potential, the sooner clubs realise the talent pool they are missing out on the better.


Comments welcome.



References

The sites I used to gather the information about jobs are below.





Soccer Analysis (http://www.socceranalysis.com/jobs)

The Video Analyst (http://thevideoanalyst.com/)

5 comments:

  1. Good article. Completely agree. Having graduated from a Redbrick University nearly two years ago in Exercise Science specialising in Biomechanics, I can relate to this well. Internships are a fantastic opportunity, build great experience and look good on the CV, but nearly all I came across were unpaid or expenses offered. I simply couldn't afford to move near an EPL or football league club without a basic salary. It is extremely frustrating.

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    1. Completely agree with all your points Jay, it's even harder when you have to move to look for the work. I am in the fortunate position of living quite central in England so there are a lot of clubs around me, but even then I can only afford to do a part-time internship which allows me to hold down another job which does pay.

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  2. Very good research. I am working for a League 2 club as an unpaid internship. In my opinion, I don't mind to work for free to get valuable experience in a professional football club. The key is that I don't want to pay in order to get working experience. Therefore, if the club is willing to pay travel expense, I think it is acceptable for an unpaid part-time internship.

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  3. Great article. Fundamentally it is about worker's rights, something which is considered basic. Volunteering is an accepted part of society, be it for commercial or NFP organisations. The provision of free labour at the control of an unscrupulous organisation in any field is open to exploitation. SOme of the conduct by these clubs is scandalous. I think a key point is the contract (or lack of) with the organisation and the intern(s). If there is no pay, can the org provide a structured, informative and supportive environment for the intern where there is an end result - be it a a) a chance for an interview for a permanent position b) a glowing reference c) what else? So it is an authentic opportunity. If not, then ask the question - would this stand up in court?

    I personally believe with the ethics and work practices of football clubs, many of them exploit interns and violate labour laws. The intern is vulnerable; and equally, has no voice. He/she could be doing great work (esp as if they are required to have a degree, therefore has some academic robustness and objectivity about their work) - but could be unheard because they are "managed" by an old-school, feeling threatened, coach or scout.

    I have a horror story that rivals the Reading scenario. A sports science graduate did 2 years as a PA intern at Ipswich Town, was dangled along, treated poorly, had poor management (from a former great player who just didn't get PA) and when the PA job was advertised, didn't get the courtesy of an interview. This is not under the current regime I will add.

    Support for interns won't change unless this area is increasingly publicised. My suggestion: all interns should be registered, with the FA and a PA body. Spread the membership base of Performance Analysis support groups, someone develop a basic contract or template and publicly ask all clubs and sports organisations to sign up for it. How about ask the FA to support this. Are there other internships for physics, coaches etc. I think universities and similar bodies should champion this cause, as they have a voice and are the production line for many interns. Suggest it has time limits to it (ie 3/6/12mths) and regular performance appraisals and work plans. There's a great irony if the intern PA can't get his own performance appraisal.

    It's a fine line and I think is on one hand really undermining the emerging industry of PA.

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    1. Absolutely excellent post, summing up the entire argument!! Many thanks for your contribution.

      I particularly like the point about a standardised template and think this would be a wonderful idea covering all the sports sciences and coaching internships that are offered.

      Sadly it looks unlikely that this is something the FA are interested in, if they are advertising 3 performance analyst posts scraping by on minimum wage for themselves it hardly makes a glowing statement.

      Thanks once again for taking the time to read and respond.

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