The shift really is working for baseball towns


Key takeaways

  • Demand for flexible labor rose over the course of baseball's 2022 regular season.
  • On average, shift volumes rose much more in markets where the teams would go on to make the playoffs.
  • Despite the increase in demand, pay rates were largely stable in these markets, and perhaps not only because of expanding labor supply.

Last year, the beginning of the baseball season coincided with a huge swing of consumer spending. Spending on goods consumed in the home stalled, and spending on services consumed outside the home – including baseball games – expanded like never before. In the midst of this surge, suppliers of services leaned on flexible labor to deal with higher demand. And in baseball, what happened on the field affected the labor market off it.

Baseball fans can be fickle. Season ticket-holders show up for most games, but other fans may lose interest if their teams start losing. So the need for flexible labor, both inside the stadium and in the surrounding area, could respond to the team's performance as well as overall trends in spending.

Playoffs, baby!

To examine this relationship, we looked at activity on our platform during baseball's last regular season, which started in April 2022 and ran through September 2022. At the start of the season, our platform was active in markets covering 24 of the 30 teams in the majors.

Though plenty of stadiums booked shifts on our platform, we also served businesses elsewhere in their neighborhoods. So in each market, we measured shift volumes and pay rates in a one-mile radius of the stadium. Then, to find the effect of sporting performance, we divided the 24 markets into the 10 that made the playoffs and the 14 that didn't.

Here's what happened to shift volumes, on average, across these two groups of markets during the baseball season:

15 Mar 2023 baseball shifts

Each trend is indexed to 100 in April 2022. In the markets where the teams eventually failed to make the playoffs, demand increased slightly in the first month, perhaps because the inflow of fans exceeded expectations. By June and July, however, both groups of markets were booking fewer shifts on our platform. At this point, the stadiums and local businesses may have found more contract employees, including students on summer vacation. But as the season entered its final months, and students returned to school, demand for flexible labor spiked again.

The trends were similar in the two groups of markets, but the levels were very different. In the markets where teams made the playoffs, demand was stronger through the last four months of the regular season – and the gap with the non-playoff markets kept growing. Performance on the field certainly seemed to matter.

Performance-based pay?

When demand for labor increases, pay rates typically do as well. There's a caveat here for our platform. Our labor supply was growing quickly enough in this period – we added a million Pros to our network – to reduce pressure on pay substantially. Here's what happened in the baseball markets:

15 Mar 2023 baseball rate

In the markets where teams didn't make the playoffs, which had the initial rise in demand, hourly pay rose substantially between April and May. But then it began to fall, eventually giving back most of its gains, as shift volumes slid to about 80% of April levels throughout the summer. Pay also rose early in the season in the playoff markets, but it largely stabilized from June onward – even as shift volumes climbed by 70%.

Pay increases in both markets may have been blunted by the increase in our labor supply. But the stability of pay in the face of enormous demand in the playoff markets is still somewhat surprising. And there's one more possible explanation, at least for shifts in stadiums.

Our Pros often tell us that stadium shifts are attractive, because they get to be part of the festivities and take in some of the events. For local fans, this excitement may grow as their teams start winning. As a result, stadiums may not need to raise pay as much; the shifts are already becoming more desirable as the season continues. When a team is on its way to the playoffs, it may be scoring on its balance sheet as well.

With Opening Day only a couple of weeks away, we're gearing up for another big season. Stadiums and local businesses have already booked thousands of shifts on our platform. And we're expanding into new markets again, so chances are you'll have access to shifts no matter which team you support. Batter up!


Realtime metrics

These metrics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 3/2/2023 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:

  • $0.04 drop in hourly pay
  • 0.3% point drop in share of short-notice shifts
  • 0.9 hours drop in hours per existing worker

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