Professional orchestras and sports teams are remarkably similar in their business operations and in labor relations. Orchestra management and sports management are in the same business, the difference being whether the players are holding a bat or a bassoon. In both industries, management scouts and hires talented players to perform difficult feats in such a compelling way that people pay for tickets to their events and fill concert halls and stadiums. In both industries, labor problems have caused enormous disruptions such as the one that has closed Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis for the last year.
Just as the first baseball union formed the Players’ League and tried to play its own schedule, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have formed the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians to produce their own concerts. The “Players’ League” failed as the baseball players lacked capital and had the tendency to overpay themselves. The Minnesota Orchestra Musicians are following a similar path now and will learn about orchestra management’s importance.
Professional athletes and musicians start their careers early in life, either playing in Little League or in a school band. They both practice their skills the prescribed 10,000 hours to perfect the art. As they improve, they begin to stand out from their peers and are given privileges, receive adulation, and develop commensurate egos. Both players compete in countless try outs, are recruited, and attend special schools; The Eastman School and Julliard are the same as LSU and Alabama in this respect. Star at either and play later as a professional.
Players in both “sports” survive a rigorous elimination process where they are promoted over peers and then find themselves in the “Big Leagues.” They note the full audiences and revel in the applause. They understand that all of this is due to their unique talent, especially when they are the featured soloist playing Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue,” or quarterback starring in the Super Bowl. The audience is not cheering the Board of Directors are they? This sense of self leads to monumental labor conflicts which is the history of professional sports. The National Football League has adopted a salary cap/revenue sharing plan that lends itself to the orchestra setting, and should be applied to the Minnesota Orchestra.
The NFL system is based on a revenue metric and a percentage of revenue to be paid to the players. For the orchestra, the union and management would agree on the revenue attributable to the musicians — from tickets sold for orchestra events, sales of DVDs and other media, to t-shirts, and then agree on the percentage payable to the players — different percentages can be paid from tickets and DVDs. The allocation between the players can also be part of the agreement. Most of the elements of this plan are already in place. It is a matter of agreeing to the concept and then sitting down and working out the details.
I have been involved in labor relations for decades and recognize that this is the time for bold action by the orchestra board. Such bold action by the NFL created the balanced plan that benefits owners, players, and fans of that sport. By adopting such a plan, the Orchestra can look forward to long term labor peace and we concert goers can enjoy the wonderful music they create.
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