Why is the deep-pocketed NFL looking for Super Bowl volunteers?

In a recent Houston Press story titled “If the NFL Really Needs You, Then Make the NFL Pay for It”, John Royal describes how the Houston Super Bowl Committee is seeking a large number of volunteers to help make the Super Bowl and the festivities around it a success. From the article:

[T]he Houston Super Bowl Committee is seeking volunteers for the game. Ten thousand volunteers, to be exact. You won’t get paid, though, because, duh, you’re a volunteer. You also won’t get to see the game because, duh, you’re a volunteer.

For its volunteers, the Super Bowl committee seeks team players who are open, full of integrity, respectful and strive for excellence. If a person meets those qualifications, then he or she has to attend three training sessions while working 18 to 24 hours the week of the game. Which, when you think of it, is a lot of time to waste for a non-charity event that is going to pull in tons of cash.

If it seems outrageous that the Super Bowl would need volunteers, given that it’s an obvious for-profit event, well, maybe that’s because it is. Given the financial backing and the obscene amount of money the NFL makes from the Super Bowl, there’s money in there to pay people to fill these positions. Ten thousand people working 24 hours each at $10 per hour adds up to $2.4 million. (With a $15 per hour minimum wage it would jump to $3.6 million, which is still not that much money; read on.)

Split evenly between the 32 teams, that $2.4 million comes out to $75,000 per team, or one-sixth of a rookie player’s guaranteed minimum salary ($450,000). Put next to the $3.2 billion the TV networks pay to broadcast the NFL season, that $2.4 million doesn’t look like a whole lot of money at all. In fact it seems like a sensible investment to make sure the event is a success.

It is noteworthy that last year (2015), the NFL gave up non-profit status after criticism came to a head. This makes the decision to solicit volunteers all the more puzzling.

I have been a football fan ever since the Houston Texans brought professional football back to Houston in 2002. But every once in a while, something happens that makes it harder to be a football fan. This is one of those things. It really does not sit well with me that a for-profit event, run by an organization that is for-profit now (at least in the legal sense and for tax purposes), would need to solicit volunteers, which implies that they are unable to pay. Whether tax-exempt or not, the NFL is definitely not a charity.

The only thing that makes sense is that they are simply unwilling to pay, not unable, and yet, I’m sure the NFL and the local committee will get their volunteers anyway. H.L. Mencken was on to something when he famously said “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” The saying of disputed origin “There’s a sucker born every minute” quite possibly applies here as well. (The latter saying has been attributed to P.T. Barnum but was more likely originally said by David Hannum, one of his rivals.)

If you want to volunteer in the Houston area, there are other places to go to find opportunities. Other cities have similar sites and programs. Look before you leap. Don’t give your time away for free to someone who is just looking to make a buck with no charitable purpose.