Football season gives the labor market a kick

Key takeaways

  • Football stadiums bring in hundreds of flexible workers for every game, with a wide variety of roles
  • The enormous demand for labor during football season raises pay rates for stadium shifts
  • Greater lead time leads to higher fill rates for shifts booked at stadiums

Football season is one of the great engines of economic activity in the United States. The league is bigger than any other sports league in the world, with $18 billion in revenue going to its clubs last year. And this number doesn't include all the other spending football generates – the tailgates, the watch parties, the food and drink at sports bars, the travel to games... you get the idea.

Stadiums are still the epicenters of the football season, though. For a single game, they can bring in hundreds of people for temporary work as ticket-takers, ushers, stewards, merchandisers, cashiers, cooks, counter staff, concession sellers, and more. Here's a breakdown of stadium shifts booked on the Instawork platform during last year's season:

There's something for everyone here, including plenty of general labor shifts for people who can just lend an extra pair of hands to make the whole spectacle work for 50,000-plus fans. In fact, there are so many shifts for football games that one has to wonder whether other stadiums would feel the effects in the labor market.

A labor market blitz

As it turns out, they do. Below is a chart showing the average hourly rates for stadium shifts for four two-month periods and three groups of metropolitan areas. The first group has no football teams in the immediate metro area: Austin, Boston, Columbus, and San Diego. Metro areas in the second group have one team each: Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. The two markets in the third group – Los Angeles and New York – have two teams each.

In the markets with no football teams, there was a big drop in pay rates after baseball, soccer, and other summer spots ended. It was a smaller drop in markets with one team, and rates actually rose in markets with two teams. The absolute rates were also higher during the November/December and January/February periods the more teams were present.

Beating the rush

With football stadiums demanding so much labor, the imperative for managers and supervisors is filling shifts. It's not easy to bring in hundreds of people at a time, even with a combination of flexible workers and seasonal hires. Not surprisingly, it helps to plan ahead.

Team schedules are fixed long in advance, so shifts can be posted in advance as well. Of course, not everyone is ready to sign up for a shift that won't take place for several months. But our data suggest that lead time of four to six weeks is plenty:

There are exceptions, of course, but the average fill rate last season was above 80% even for shifts booked within 24 hours of the start time.

Getting all those workers where they need to be is a task in itself. On game day, check-in stations typically dot the periphery of stadiums as staff try to get everyone in on time. But it's all part of the excitement – football season is a uniquely American experience, and there's more than one way to be a part of it.

Realtime metrics

These metrics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 8/17/2023 to the previous two weeks. To control for the overall growth of the Instawork marketplace, only shifts involving businesses that booked shifts in both periods are included:

  • $0.09 rise in hourly pay
  • 0.3% point drop in share of short-notice shifts
  • 0.5 hours drop in hours per existing worker

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